A delegation of six ministers has left for South Africa where they will hold talks with officials of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over a $10 billion debt Uganda owes the latter.
The Attorney General, Mr Peter Nyombi, who led the group which left yesterday, said the claim by the DRC, which resulted from activities of Uganda’s army in the neighbouring country in the late 1990s, had actually shot to $23 billion.
In 1999, then DRC president Laurent-Desire Kabila sued Uganda at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) sitting at The Hague, Netherlands, accusing it of plundering resources and committing crimes against humanity in the eastern part of the country.
Uganda had been part of several countries that had supported Kabila’s three-year uprising that saw his forces overthrow president Mobutu Sese Seko’s government in 1997. However, after a fall-out between Kampala and Kinshasa, Kabila sued Uganda and the ICJ in 2005 granted its request of a $10b fine. Uganda insists the UPDF were deployed in the Congo to protect national security.
Asked whether Uganda would honour the new $23 billion claim by DRC, Mr Nyombi said his team was still studying documents related to the case although the South Africa talks would help refine the issues.
“DRC sent us a new claim of $23b and I dispatched our technical team to Kinshasa to look at their evidence. We were given 7,400 documents, most of them in French. Most have been translated to English now and just over a month ago, we went to DRC and told them we were ready to talk,” said Mr Nyombi.
The minister, who said Uganda had not paid any money to the DRC, added: “We have analysed the evidence they gave us and there are questions we have raised over certain claims. We would like some evidence in respect of certain claims and by the time we are done in South Africa, we will have known what should have been the correct amount payable to DRC. We have carried out a thorough analysis of the evidence presented.”
Mr Nyombi pointed out that some of the DRC claims fall outside the period mentioned in the ICJ ruling, making them defective. “You see in the ruling of the ICJ, they said compensation was only payable between a certain period when Uganda was in DRC and now they are cases that are outside that period,” said the minister.
He added: “The public shouldn’t worry and the team I have has done very good analysis and in any case DRC and Uganda are sister countries and we have opened a number of channels of cooperation so besides this claim, what is even more important is our relationship with DRC and we believe our brothers will be able to understand the situation.”
THE FULL INTERVIEW
Q: We have information that the Uganda government through Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ministry is negotiating with DR Congo over allegations that Uganda plundered its resources. At what stage are these negotiations?
A: Maybe a brief background on this case and what happened was that DR Congo took Uganda to International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging that Uganda had invaded and plundered the DRC and so the ICJ entered judgment against Uganda and directed the two parties sit down and agree on sort of compensation that Uganda would pay DR Congo. Also Uganda had made a claim in respect of the damage that had been done on Ugandan Embassy in Kinshasha and so the two parties are supposed to sit down and agree on how much each of party should pay the other.
DR Congo made a claim of US$23 billion and upon receipt of that claim, I instructed our technical team to travel to Kinshasa to collect evidence upon which they based that claim and they were given 7,400 documents relating to the claim.
However, these documents were in French and had to be interpreted into English to enable our technical team analyze them.
About a month ago, we went to Kinshasha and informed the government of DR Congo that we have gone through the evidence upon which they were basing the claim and we are ready to sit down with them.
We have analysed the evidence upon which they based. On Sunday (yesterday) I will lead a delegation of six ministers to South Africa where we are going to sit down with the delegation from DR Congo and we present our side of the story.
Q:Who are the ministers in your delegation?
A: The ministers include the minister of Finance, Defencem, Foreign Affairs, Lands, Justice and me. We are going with some of our permanent secretaries and other technical officers and we hope we will be able to present our analysis on the evidence.
Q: Uganda hasn’t paid any money to DR Congo as far as that case is concerned?
A: Not yet. We have analysed the evidence they gave us and there are questions we have raised over certain claims we would like some evidence and in respect of certain claims and by the time we go, we will have known what should have been the correct amount payable to DR Congo. We have carried out a thorough analysis of the evidence presented.
In the ruling of the ICJ, they said compensation was only payable between a certain period when Uganda was in DR Congo and now they are cases that are outside that period and the judgment of ICJ says Uganda is only liable to claims in respect of areas where our soldiers were.
The public shouldn’t worry and the team I have has done a very good analysis and in any case, DR Congo and Uganda are sister countries and we have opened a number of channels of cooperation. Besides this claim, what is even more important is our relationship with DR Congo and we believe our brothers will be able to understand the situation.
Q: You have been accused of refusing to sanction payments for some claimants who demand payments from the government. What is your take on these allegations?
A: I have heard about those claims and I know this ministry has been paying billions if not trillions of shillings to claimants but before I approve any claim, I want to be certain that the claim is genuine and it is not the question of sanctioning but I read the file and make an assessment to ensure that we don’t lose money. This is one of the ministries where government funds are paid out and so I must be satisfied that the claim that is lodged is genuine. Not that I refuse to pay. I only want to be satisfied that what is being paid is the correct amount.
Q: Do you sometimes get cooked up claims where people within and without connive to bring none existent claims or inflated ones?
A: I have some and I have found some questionable claims and as a matter of fact, you must have heard about the meeting of the Law Society. What the public may not know is that some of the lawyers involved in drafting those resolutions have very questionable claims here. I have come across some of those claims and once I discover that that the claim is not genuine, I will not sanction the payment.
Q: You mean the movers of the resolution to suspend you from the Uganda Law Society?
A: Yes. Some of them are movers of that resolution. I am not saying all the movers were aggrieved because I refused to sign those claims.
However, there were a number of reasons why the lawyers came together and passed those resolutions.
Q: Do you fear those whose claims you have not sanctioned might come after you?
A: I think at times I have been warned not to stand in the way but that does not scare me and I believe in God and I believe God is going to protect me.
Q: How have you handled Jessy Mashate’s case where he sued the president?
A: Now what happened in the year 2006, Jessy Mashate filed a case against the president in his individual merit. But when you read the documentation relating to the case, he was actually aggrieved by certain actions of government. However, instead of suing the government he sued the president.
He sued the president in England and in 2011, he got an attachment order of all our properties in England and you know what it means to attach properties of a country and there was an application for that order to be made permanent so that he could sell the properties. We were warned and I went into action and hired certain lawyers who ensured that the attachment orders were thrown out. I attended the court proceedings when the judge was giving the ruling and warned Jessy Mashate from antagonising the president of a friendly country.
Mashate appealed to the European Court of Justice and now he is moving from UK. But the High Court in England directed him to produce evidence. If he fails to produce that evidence within 20 days, the High Court was going to dismiss his application in the High Court. So we have managed to fight him and I think everything is in control.
Q: Regarding that case, could you explain how a Kampala-based law firm is going to earn more than a London firm which has been heavily involved in that case?
A: I think there is a misunderstanding because you must understand this case came about when I had just reported to this office and we learnt about it through Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA). When they learnt about it, they reported to the president and then the president referred it to the prime minister and who reported to this office (Attorney General).
Then I received a letter from State House telling me to do everything possible to ensure that we fight that case.
I requested my team to negotiate fees with the counsel from Kampala Associated Advocates who was representing us. There is a capping for Edwin Coy (UK-based law firm) on the early retainer but there is no capping on that amount and so I am not certain when somebody says that KAA was going to earn more than Edwin Coy.
Secondly, the yardstick used to determine the fees payable to lawyers is laid down by advocate remuneration rules and if we have gone by those rules, that amount would be so high but I remember when we were negotiating with KAA, we agreed that the amount shouldn’t be beyond 0.5 percent. Now that is far below the yardstick as determined by the rules. It is professional misconduct under the Advocates Act.
I told my team to negotiate at about 0.8 per cent but those people were demanding 10 percent. Then at a certain point, they came down to 4 percent but I refused. As a compromise, we agreed at two percent. But again you have to take into account what we were going to lose if those properties were sold because the amount that was being claimed was 60 million pounds and that is the total claim.
Q: You said the case came up at a time when you came into office but I have it on record that your predecessor actually refused to handle the case saying Mr Museveni had been sued in his individuals capacity and therefore, he wouldn’t commit public resources onto personal matters?
A: Yeah I have heard about that one but for me when I analyzed the case yes, Mashate filed a case against Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in person but the properties that were attached belonged to Uganda and now should I have said that since Mashate sued President Museveni we sit and the properties go? And you can see the contradictions there. He sues president Museveni in his individual name but the properties that are attached belong to Ugandans and the activities about which he was complaining had actually been committed by the government not Yoweri Kaguta Museveni as a person. I couldn’t sit and watch.
Q: Why did you allow compensation of Shs39 billion to a few former Internal Security Organisation operatives?
A: We received a directive from the president to have ex-ISO staff be compensated and their claim was Shs72 billion. Cabinet set up a cabinet sub-committee of which I was a member and we negotiated and reduced that amount to Shs39 billion and these were their entitlements.
What is your relationship with the IGG?
I read in the news papers that I am supposed to have said certain things or done certain things but as far I am concerned, I have no problem with her and I do my work according to my ability.
But she was quoted to have said that she give orders as you give directives
For me I am not going to get involved in that sort of childish argument
Q: How far have you gone with cases involving Tullow and Heritage?
A: We won the case against Heritage but they challenged us against charging them in terms of tax but we again won that case and we earned this country a total of $434 million. But they raised two minor issues in respect of which we made two issues over two months ago and we are waiting for the ruling.
Now with Tullow, they also filed proceedings for arbitration and they were challenging us on two issues. That is capital gains tax and the other one is VAT but the main one is capital gains tax. We hope to negotiate with them and if we agree, the proceeding that had commenced in England may be put on hold. As negotiations continue, we are hopeful to come to an agreement.
Q: You have been instrumental in the return of Buganda properties and why Buganda alone and not other kingdoms?
A: It is not Buganda alone. It is the president who directed that properties should be returned to the people from whom they were grabbed and it is only that we started with Buganda because they were the first group to put their request and we verified the first batch of properties including 213 titles. We are handling other claims and we are handling claims from Bunyoro, Tooro which means it is not only Buganda being considered.
Q: We have information that government also intends to return the William Street Mosque which was part of the properties sold and now under contention by Muslims?
A: What happened is that a businessman called Drake Lubega bought that property and after buying it, he failed to posses it because Muslims who were using that property as a mosque were not very happy and there was a possibility of violence. The President held talks with Drake Lubega. We have had the property valued and now we are hammering out an agreement with Drake Lubega so that he can be compensated.
Q: Speaker of Parliament Kadaga said she doesn’t trust your legal advise and she is on record that she wants a separate legal advisor for Parliament. You also rarely go to Parliament when she is in the chair. Do you have a rosy relationship with her?
A: I think what she will have to do is to convince Parliament when we are debating the Constitutional amendments but at the moment, the Constitution says if anybody is bringing proceedings against the government, the Attorney General is the party you sue or Attorney General who sues on behalf of the government.
So if she wants Parliament to have its own legal department that is fine but one thing that must be clear is that I don’t operate here as an individual but I operate as a department. I believe if there is a matter to handle, I have the responsibility of advising my client and I feel that client may not have legal basis perusing a certain legal matters. I don’t just go to court because people want me to go to court but I assess and advice the client accordingly. It will be up to Parliament to decide and we shouldn’t personalise these things because I may not be in this office for ever.
About going to Parliament, the problem is the amount of work that I have, I normally have a lot of work.
When my deputy goes to Parliament, I remain in office to handle other issues. It is not that I don’t want go to Parliament but the work I handle.
Q: What are your thoughts on Katosi and Standard Gauge Railway scandals?
A: Regarding Katosi, my opinion was not contradictory to the opinion given by the Deputy Attorney General. I agreed with him but the differing opinion I gave is that at the time my deputy gave that legal opinion, matters had just occurred. I said that any reasonable person would have suspected that the Chinese might have collided with that fraudulent company and so my deputy is right.
About the railway, I did write a report to the president and the report was based on the documentation that was availed to me. When I write a report and make recommendations to the president, I am just making recommendation and in fact the purpose of making my report was to enable the president take a decision because initially, I didn’t get the cooperation from ministry of works for the information that I wanted. I decided to write a report so that he could take a decision and he took a decision. However, even if I make a recommendation, the president can vary his decision from my recommendation and he may do so for strategic reasons because he has that authority and he has reasons best known to himself.
Q: It is rumoured that you are one of the people who are close to former Prime Minister Mr Amama Mbabazi and definitely pushing him for presidency, how true is this statement?
A: I have read about it and in fact whenever the other paper writes, my name comes first as one of the people behind Mbabazi. They say so because I was one of the people who defended him when he came out very strongly during the Temangalo issue and then the Chogm and Oil bribery issues and others maybe. I was not defending Mbabazi, I was defending the government, and let’s take the example of the Saverino Twinobusigye case when Parliament passed a resolution that Mbabazi and two other ministers should step aside. I opposed that resolution not because of Mbabazi but because I was defending the government. Therefore, I defend government and not Mbabazi as a person.
But in any case, he was the secretary general of my party, he was the prime minister and how couldn’t I work with him? My mind is clear and I have been around for some time and I know where we have come from.
But some people link me to Mbabazi with malice. Those allegations are baseless. I am for NRM and I do appreciate the president and what he has done for this country and I can see a very brilliant future for this country under the stewardship of Museveni.
Q:Have you cleared the payment Shs13 billion to Saverino Twinobusigye as directed by court?
A: No. How and I can never sanction such payment? We fought it and that was open robbery and how can we pay somebody Shs13 billion? I could never accept that.