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Mak Staff Tribunal Orders Reinstatement of Dismissed Political Science Don

Dr Okuku was among the 45 staff that were fired by the institution in December 2018. He was sacked for alleged incompetence and inefficiency based on the alleged failure to release results of Urban and Rural Development, a course unit he taught in Semester II for 2016/2017 academic year for almost a full year.
Juma Okuku with his lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde
The Makerere University Staff Appeals Tribunal has quashed the dismissal of Dr Juma Anthony Okuku, a Senior Lecturer at Makerere’s Department of Political Science in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences –CHUSS.

The Tribunal has ordered his immediate reinstatement into the University Service from the date of his dismissal on full pay as well as payment of his full salary from January 2019 to the time of his retirement. The tribunal ruled that the University's Appointments Board blundered when it charged him without conducting preliminary investigations as required under the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act.

The tribunal led by Retired Justice Patrick Tabaro also contends that the Board violated rules of natural justice by not according Dr Okuku a fair hearing and that the penalty imposed on him was too harsh and excessive. It has also ordered that the record of his dismissal be expunged from his university file and be allowed to retire from the University Service with full privileges and honour.

Dr Okuku was among the 45 staff that were fired by the institution in December 2018. He was sacked for alleged incompetence and inefficiency based on the alleged failure to release results of Urban and Rural Development, a course unit he taught in Semester II for 2016/2017 academic year for almost a full year. 

In previous stories published by URN, Dr Okuku had contested the awarding of 283 students with false marks. He explained that assessing the Course Work in a class of 400 students, he noticed 93 cases of plagiarism and 110 cases that were unlikely authentic. And for these two sets, he did not give grades. Whereas he awarded marks to a group of 80 students, they too had poorly performed.

This prompted Dr Okuku to cancel the entire assignment and subsequently called for a meeting with the students and suggested a test for the whole class as alternative course work. However, his suggestion was rejected outrightly according to documents seen by this reporter and chaos ensued.

Okuku’s case was handled hurriedly through the university disciplinary process of the Appointments Board despite a pending High Court case in which he challenged the department for allegedly awarding students marks they did not deserve. He was then sacked from the university, a decision he contested in the tribunal through the Centre for Legal Aid's Isaac Ssemakadde.

At the appeal, Esther Kabinga of the Directorate of Legal Affairs of the University denied all the allegations in the appeal and averred that all grounds of the appeal had no merit. Kabinga told the Tribunal that Dr Okuku never served the University Appointments Board with any Court an order staying the proceedings and therefore had no justification for his refusal to appear before the Board, which she says amounted to insubordination against the lawful orders of his employer.  

In its ruling, however, the tribunal observes that Dr Okuku had duly notified the Board of a pending court case and requested time to consult with his lawyer who was out of town, but it insisted to proceed to hear his case in his absence.  The tribunal noted that the easiest and most prudent thing to do would have been for Makerere University to stand over the matter and cross-check with the registry of the High Court if indeed Dr Okuku had filed a case in respect to the matter. 

Justice Tabaro faults the university lawyers who guided the Appointments Board in line with the sub judice rule that they were under a professional obligation to discourage the university from taking any steps that would undermine the court process since there seemed to have been no urgency in the decision they intended to pass through.  

“Quasi-judicial administrative bodies such as the Appointments Board are held to a high standard concerning the obligation to act fairly. This is because the consequences of their decisions can materially and adversely affect the employees, as was the case in this instance where the appellant was dismissed from his permanent and pensionable employment,” says Justice Tabaro. 

“From the foregoing, it is clear and apparent that the appellant was not accorded a right to a fair hearing. The Appellant was not allowed to enjoy his right to a fair administrative hearing,” reads the ruling in part.  The tribunal, however, noted that the allegations of incompetency, inefficiency, failure to perform official duties and insubordination were serious charges against Dr Okuku.

 

“The Tribunal does not condone incompetency or inefficiency or any other acts which are likely to injure the name or reputation of the institution. However, we note that the punishment imposed on the appellant of dismissal from the University Service was harsh and excessive,” says Tribunal. 

Okuku has been a lecturer at Makerere University since 1985. He clocked retirement age during the lockdown.