By Faruk Kirunda
Controversy has arisen consequent to the issuance of a string of directives by President Yoweri Museveni as he leads the front against Covid-19, the deadly viral disease that has brought the world to a stop. While the measures announced since last month have been bitter-sweet, causing considerable inconvenience and discomfort to everyone, they have saved a bad situation from getting worse. Most people have take them as the only way out of the medical puzzle and, as a result, avoided antagonising them since there is no cure to rely on.
It’s only some individual members of the Uganda Law Society (ULS) and Senior counsel Male Mabirizi my brother who came up to openly challenge the measures, taking practical steps that I felt could have weakened the strong front that together as Ugandans with our very able leadership of President Museveni have established. The media carried stories on their moves which were at various stages of implementation. Social media did not miss out!
As a concerned citizen, I came up to rally us all to appreciate the situation we were in and do our part, in concert with the leadership, to stay on top of things. I was in fact surprised by the moves of ULS, believing they were misguided in conceptualizing their challenge and going on to make public. There was a risk of alarming Ugandans and diverting them from observing life-saving safety measures as spearheaded by government which is the custodian of the wellbeing of Ugandans. My re(action) was not intended at all to attack anyone but to give supplementary guidance on a matter of public urgency.
Behind-the-scenes, I came under undue pressure but as a true patriot, I cannot let up on duty in the interest of the general public or take offence at being challenged. If Museveni can be challenged, who am I not to be challenged? It is better to respond or bring on a new perspective to help minimise doubts as to the justification of the measures advanced and guaranteed by government which is the custodian of the wellbeing of Ugandans. I think that is the direction that this discussion should take. We should not bicker while the common enemy is still with us.
At the time some members of ULS were making their moves, President Museveni’s (earlier) directives which have the power of law had been already gazetted and registered as statutory instrument 52 of 2020. At the same time, the president’s directives could work backwards within the circumstances of continuation of the problem in the context of which they were issued. In that regard, the president’s directives were protected under the existing Constitutional arrangement recalling that Museveni’s powers are conferred upon him by the very Constitution which makes him the sole (executive) head-of-state of Uganda. The powers he wields are for the purpose of taking decision as he has done in the Covid-19 era. To say that he must not do as he has done is to take away his duties and responsibilities, rendering his office redundant. While questions on the nature and manner of issuance of the directives can be raised in a continuously democratizing country like Uganda, they must not be antagonistic or cynical lest they are interpreted as a power struggle.
What must be clearly understood is that Museveni is not a lawless leader -who flouts laws or breaks the Constitution at will. He knows the law, respects it and upholds the Constitution at all times. He consults widely about many things including Constitutional matters before proceeding with any matter. Whenever he encounters overbearing need to challenge or review any provision, he knows what to do ad where to go. He could, therefore, not have been thrown off balance by Covid-19 so much to lose his standard statesmanship. There is nothing he has done that was unlawful as accused. No tenet of freedom was violated except as provided for under the law.
According to the response by Mr.Peter M. Kahindi it seems he never considered Article 43 of the Constitution, all freedoms can be limited except only four under Article 44, which four are freedom from torture, freedom to defend self in a court of law, freedom of access to food and freedom to access health care. If his directives can be scrutinized with a positive attitude, one notices that the president was considerate of the wellbeing of Ugandans in whatever he stated. He went as far as terming errant Local Defence Unit (LDUs) personnel who were reported to have manhandled citizens as “pigs” because they violated the provision against torture under the aforementioned Article 44.
The president has been accused of disregarding the principle of separation of powers in ordering the courts of law (alongside other public high population areas) to scale down operations or shut down in observance of social distancing precautions. If I may ask, do the courts operate in the clouds or under water? If anti-Covid-19 safety measures were issued to have effect all over Uganda, were the courts outside Uganda or they have special powers of protection against the disease? When places of worship were ordered to close, was Museveni usurping the powers of clerics or he was protecting Ugandans? The answers are clear!
Museveni had powers to go further and declare a state of emergency but he did not because the implications would be loss of freedoms for Ugandans without recourse. It is enough to know that there is a public health emergency which necessitates the kind of measures so far instituted. Under the Public Health Act, Rules and Regulations, section 10 and 11, under paragraph 20, government can institute any measure to prevent the spread of a disease including arresting anyone found in breach of safety guidelines. Returnees from abroad who disappeared before ascertaining their status can be arrested under that provision and in fact government delayed to take action.
Section 23 supports section 20; it provides that someone being aware of carrying a contagious illness but who puts others at risk can be sued. Section 22 provides that anyone who hides information on, or a landlord who gives sanctuary to, a person with a contagious disease can be sued.
On closure of schools, churches and other public spaces and gatherings, section 27 expressly gives the minister (of Health) powers to do so. There is no reasonable basis to challenge the measures so far instituted in Uganda except to back them. In Kenya, the lawyers there did not make a mistake about that; their issue was on demanding for movement stickers. They didn’t challenge the quarantine or lockdown. In South Africa, again it was lawyers raising a challenge but their case was dismissed and In Malawi a court has temporarily stopped government from establishing lock up measures but not on account of human rights violatons but to ask govt to establish a plan of sustainability and livelihood of the people. So world over, every one appreciates that strict measures similar to the ones in Uganda are necessary in addressing the covid-19 pandemic and no right thinking member of society ought to challenge them unless they are enemies of the people. What we should all guard against is using the measures to violate non derogable rights which so far has not been the case.
If interested parties in any institution feel threatened or unbearably inconvenienced, they should come up and present their suggestions and concerns in good faith for due incorporation in Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) if applicable but not raising non-essential distractions that threaten the safety of life of Ugandans. This is my opinion and not an attack on anybody, which I why I am avoiding names. If I have come off too hard on anyone, I apologise but let’s focus on the common enemy. Everything else will continue if we have life.
The author is a Presidential Assistant in Charge of Media Management