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Age limit saga goes to court

President Museveni

Three citizens have petitioned the Constitutional court challenging the mandatory retirement of public servants, including the president, saying it’s discriminatory.

The petitioners, who have mentioned the attorney general as the only respondent, are Yasin Omar, Peter Ndyomugenyi and Mable Namutebi.

The petition comes weeks after parliament threw out a controversial bill sponsored by Nakifuma MP Robert Kafeero Ssekitooleko that sought to raise the retirement age of judges and remove a limit on the terms electoral commissioners can serve. Critics opposed the bill, suspecting it was a ploy to amend article 102 (b) of the constitution and remove the 75-year cap on the president’s age limit.

Now, in the petition lodged on September 30, 2016, the trio is challenging articles 102 (b) and 108(4) of the constitution, which block a person who has attained 75 years from standing for president.

This restriction, according to the petitioners, is discriminatory and amounts to “ageism.”

They also challenge the provision on 35 years being the minimum for one to be eligible to stand for president or be appointed vice president as enshrined in the constitution.

“…That the said mandatory retirement and or age limit laws and customs have been generally outlawed and held to be unlawful in other democracies such as United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia, Canada, the European Union, among others, and specifically article 21-1 of the fundamental rights of the European Union….,” the petitioners contend.   

They also challenge section 12 (1) of the Pensions Act cap 288, which provides for compulsory retirement of all public officers such as police, army, teachers, accountants and doctors upon attaining 60 years. They contend that the section is discriminatory and contravenes articles 1(4), 8A, 20, 21(2)(3), 28(1), 32(2), 38(1),40(2), 43(1)(2), 44(a) of the constitution.

“We believe retirement based on age should be voluntary and only after due evaluation and consideration of an individual’s mental and physical capacity to perform the specific task or job and not mandatory as it infringes on other fundamental human rights as enshrined in the 1995 constitution,” they argue.  

The petitioners also take exception of article 144(1)(a)(b) of the constitution, which provides for the mandatory retirement of the chief justice, deputy chief justice and justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme court on attaining the age of seventy years. 

The same article provides for the retirement of the principal judge and High court judges at 65 years. Under the current provision, Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma is set to retire next year. Other judges set to retire next year include Jotham Tumwesigye (Supreme court), Ezekiel Muhanguzi and Elizabeth Nahamya (High court).

According to the petitioners, mandatory retirement of judicial officers on the basis of age has worsened the case backlog in the courts.

dkiyonga@observer.ug

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