On 1 November, The President of Uganda ordered Makerere University (MUK) to be closed with immediate effect in a letter addressed to the University generally. He cited the Constitution and Section 26 (1) and (2) of the University and other Tertiary Institution Act 2001 (as amended) (the Act), it provides,
“The visitor shall perform an overall supervisory role over the affairs of each Public University.” (ss2).
“The President shall be the visitor of each Public University.” (ss1).
Supervision is the power to oversee, control or manage an activity. The argument can go both sides. The President may have the powers as a supervisor to close the University. The circumstances were general but significant in nature.
Students in campus failed to study because lecturers were on a strike, citing failure by the Ministry of Education and the President to honour an incentive proposal. Who might be at wrong here. But remember MUK has very deep problems, maladministration, corruption and poor funding, maybe, unnecessary governmental interference. The academic staffs strike led to a students strike. Which could have endangered national security.
Does the President have power to close the university, when the act of closing a University is an adminstrtive function?. For instance, When semesters switch, the University is closed, when students finish their papers the University is closed. It is purely administrative.
Looking at the Act as a whole, it was enacted to regulate and control University and Tertiary Education. The President is a Visitor to the University, with powers as a supervisor of the University. Therefore can a visitor to your home have powers tell you to clean your house, only advise he may give. As I already stated closing a University is an administrative action, which if the Drafters of the Act intended to give the President, would have been clearly and expressly stated in the Act, with the words, “The President can direct closure of the University”. Besides the grounds and conditions for closure have not been stated in the law.
The provision can be misused by the president if there are no safeguards through which the President can exercise his powers. In absence of express provisions and conditions, the president can have no such power.
In addition, no person can be subjected to an administrative decision affecting him/her without that person(s) being given a fair hearing. A fair hearing in administrative matters under Article 42 of the Constitution is a Human Right. The Presidents move is purely an administrative one.
A University is not just a primary school, it is a country of activity having many stakeholders. Contractual relationships are many at times, students, rental, insurance, employment, licences, supplies, works and services. All such people have human rights to education, to practice their profession and property.
What of the medical students who have been interning and providing medical services to patients in Mulago. The effects of the closure are far reaching than a directive, closing the University. Very many stakeholders are involved.
This event has challenged the ability and competence of Ugandan laws. From this view point is the law a remedy to everything? Or it should only be a guide to human relationships. Technology and human relationships have dashed ahead of law, the law cannot cover all aspects of the human life. Can they? Maybe our laws are so incompetent. How can one provision of a statute cause Billions in loss?
Makerere University students have always struck and never caused a threat to National security, it is because the Police contained all protesters. The students have a right to peacefully demonstrate, such right must be regulated and guarded by the police.
Even when it is reasonable and logical to close the University, Ugandans need to organise their affairs in MUK, law drafting must improve and law reform has work to do, and if the President must have closure powers, it must have been clearly and expressly stated in the Act
The Kampala Law Monthly Magazine Team.