An Open letter to Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament
I have had several conversations with Honourable Rose Sseninde, the Chairperson of the Social Service Committee of Parliament in regard to Makerere University student’s petition for which you wrote to me on the 4th November 2009 acknowledging receipt but also saying by copy of the letter, the chairperson of the Social Services Committee is requested to present the petition.
Honourable Speaker, on occasions I have talked to the Chairperson I have been told a similar petition was presented and parliament resolved that it had no powers to restrain the university council to rescind its decision on fees hike since the university council was mandated by the Universities and Tertiary Institutions Act to set the university fees. And that she would look a fool to present a petition whose material facts are similar to the one on which decision has already been made. I was left convinced that maybe if we are to trust Parliament, we are ploughing the sands. I will not labour to articulate the concerns raised therein since your office has a copy of the petition but I will raise a few issues in regard to my conversations with Honourable Sseninde.
I’ve told Honourable Sseninde that shouldn’t this matter be handled expeditiously, parliament should expect an unprecedented strike by students and lecturers because lecturers pay fees for their children hence fees hike should translate into proportionate hike in their remunerations. Of course MPs have already hiked their emoluments in the wake of increased costs of living which include paying fees! She told me whoever strikes will be expelled and I said should they expel us for exercising our rights, we shall sue the university and the consequences would be grave. I am sure you know there is a precedent.
Although I have not looked at the petition that was reportedly dismissed by Parliament, I strongly believe the issues may be related but the prayers are different. Our petition doesn’t in anyway fault the university council but asks the government to increase funding to the public universities and reverse the already passed fees increment so that students top on the fees due to them next semester.
This petition is also different from the other one in a sense that while the quashed petition came from the Students’ Guild leaders, this one is from the direct victims themselves – the freshers. It is prudent you take this one more seriously since it is he who wears the shoe that knows how much it pinches.
Honourable Speaker, we know that Parliament is the legitimate and institutionalized mouthpiece of Ugandans. Hence, we were not redundant to bring the petition to Parliament and we feel shocked to learn that you have no powers over the running of public universities. Otherwise we would have petitioned the Constitutional Court or the Uganda Human Rights Commission since we know that education is a right provided for in Article 30 of the constitution and other international human rights instruments ratified by Uganda. Please, note also the international law principle of Pacta Sunt Servanda in article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties namely that, treaties and instruments once signed must be observed.
This issue requires political not legal solutions. Otherwise, many MPs and the ruling party will be paid in a similar currency come 2011. H.E Mkapa said in his lecture at Makerere University that fees increment is counterproductive and governments in Africa must design student loan programmes. Food for thought. As we build for the future!
Mr. Nuwagaba is a human rights defender.
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