Makerere University vice chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe has no powers to suspend staff or appoint a committee to investigate employees according to Makerere School of Law.
This is contained in a statement signed by associate professor Christopher Mbazira, the acting principal Law School with backing of all staff.
"It appears that the powers invoked to suspend and at the same time nominate an investigative committee are not available either in the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act or in the Makerere University Human Resources Manual," a statement by law dons reads.
Prof Nawangwe has in the past relied on section 31 (1) and 55 (2) of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act to suspend staff. However, the law dons argue that neither the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act nor the Makerere University Human Resource Manual empower the vice chancellor to doll out suspensions.
"Neither do they give the vice chancellor powers to set up an investigative committee. Those powers vest only in the person that has direct supervision of the staff member. Even the Human Resource Manual in paragraph 5.9 (b) (ii) does not give the vice chancellor power to institute an investigative committee," the law dons contend.
They also say the threats by the university management to take disciplinary action against any employee of the university who has withdrawn his/her labour in accordance with the resolutions of the February 4, 2019 joint assembly are illegal and should be rejected.
URN has previously reported on the orders of the Makerere director human resources, Andrew Abunyang directing all staff to report to work lest they are dealt with under the law.
Legality of suspensions
The Law School observes that the Employment Act provides for the manner, in which suspension of employees is managed. Section 63 (2) provides that "Any suspension under subsection (1) shall not exceed four weeks or the duration of the inquiry."
"We observe that the suspension of Masa [Makerere Administrative Staff Association] chairperson Bennet Magara and the secretary Joseph Kalema is illegal as it has exceeded the mandatory 4 weeks from the date of suspension on 21st December 2018," they further contend.
Human Resource Manual challenged
The law dons also argue that Makerere University Human Resource Manual is riddled with several illegalities, which contradict the Constitution and other employment laws.
According to Prof Mbazira, "Clause 5.9 (b) (i&v) which provide for 90 days of suspension contravenes section 63 of the Employment Act. The recently gazetted amendments to the HR manual are likewise legally problematic."
The School reiterated the earlier position that the staff resolutions are binding on all associations and union members. Prof Mbazira says the Law School remains committed to all its academic, administrative and support obligations under the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act and their terms of employment.
"It is also our responsibility as a School to provide well-reasoned guidance on matters of constitutionalism, rule of law and administrative governance. It is in this spirit and for the overall good of Makerere University - the oldest and most prestigious institution of higher learning in the land - that we give this opinion and advice," states Prof Mbazira.
Associate Prof. Ronald Kakungulu Mayambala, a senior law lecturer explains that the vice chancellor like any other university staff is an employee of the university and cannot have powers to discipline a fellow employee without going through the necessary committees.
“Promotions, confirmations in university service, similar for dismissals or disciplinary actions must be initiated for from the department because that is where the professional adviser and supervisor of the member of staff is." Mayambala said.
"Then of course these cases are meant to be referred not to committees to investigate suspensions but to the appointments board disciplinary committee for remedy under the law in Public Service and the constitution. From the lowest employee to the highest employee -the vice chancellor we’re all employees. So it cannot be that an employee has power to discipline a fellow employee. All these must go to another employee…Because we’re all employees of the government of Uganda - all of us from the vice chancellors, professors to the lowest ranked person the cleaners, we’re all employees.”
On Wednesday February 6, the vice chancellor issued a letter to association heads appealing to them to play their 'rightful roles' in restoring normalcy in the university.
"This is to affirm the position reached between management and the leadership of the three staff associations at the meeting held on 4th February 2019, to start a new chapter of mutual respect and take our university to greater heights as one family," Prof Nawangwe said.
Despite this assurance, staff demand that the university management reinstates the suspended staff association leaders in order to affirm a "new chapter of mutual respect."
Associate Prof Edward Mwavu, the interim chairperson Joint Staff Associations declined to comment on the said letter, saying he would table it before the joint assembly scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Students losing patience
Denis Twahika, a law student says the frustration he is feeling after missing lectures is pushing him to apply desperate measures.
“As a student here, I have never believed in throwing stones in my life but am being pushed into that direction where I will pick a stone and throw it at someone. I have never throughout my life, even when I was doing my first degree, I have never here at Makerere. I have always advocated for civic action but it is very very unfortunate that you can be pushed to the wall to this extent. And you can see am holding books, I have been holding these books for the last 3 weeks crying for Makerere to resolve this and then we study. But what type of disagreement is there that can really takes 2 months to resolve. If professors cannot resolve an issue within seconds, what about students?”
Twahika says Nawangwe's comments on student's good discipline for not joining the striking lecturers is misplaced, especially after silencing all critical voices.
“I think the vice chancellor or management should have hailed us for being docile, for not being aware of our rights and responsibilities as students. But you hail us for being disciplined when you sit for a month without studying? And the world is being lied to that we’re studying. I think docility should be hailed at Makerere University. Am not saying that we pick stones and fight, no, but demanding for what belongs to us should be at the heart of our existence. There is more dealership at Makerere than leadership because leadership resolves things amicably. Dealership has hidden interests but I call upon students to know that Makerere belongs to them, their children and grandchildren and shouldn’t be destroyed when we’re watching.”
This week, President Museveni reiterated his support to Prof Nawangwe to cleanse Makerere and restore discipline among the staff. Museveni said undisciplined staff should take their stupidity elsewhere.