Saturday June 28 2014

Court ruling on UBC, Basajjabalaba case is good

By Obed Katurebe

On June 24, Ugandans were treated to the most reassuring news in recent times. The Supreme Court threw out the most obnoxious deal in form of court settlement between Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) and city businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba. Basajjabalaba needs no introduction to Ugandans. His numerous transactions with government have raised eyebrows and in most cases matters have been settled through courts of law.

The botched sale of UBC land in Bugolobi to Basajjabalaba came into the limelight in May 2011 when President Museveni ordered the sacking of then UBC managing director Musinguzi Mugasa and the entire board of directors. This was after a whistle blower informed the President about the suspicious transaction. Subsequently, police were ordered to investigate the matter and as we speak, Musinguzi and his then board are in court battling corruption related charges.
Following this, UBC sued city businessman Basajjabalaba whose company Haba had attempted to acquire the Bugolobi land. Haba has since lost this very case in both High Court and Court of Appeal and subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court.

In this Supreme Court circumstances, lawyers representing UBC and those representing Basajjabalaba entered into an out of court settlement and wanted the Supreme Court to sanction the deal where UBC, which is owned by the government, would pay Basajjabalaba Shs36billion as compensation for the botched up sale of the land in measuring close to 25 acres.

Without prejudice, the most shocking of this whole settlement is the fact that Basajjabalaba and company had lost this case in High Court and Court of Appeal where in both cases their lordships ruled that the whole transaction to acquire the UBC land was conducted illegally and was full of fraud. The bolt from the blue then was how UBC chose to settle out of court with a new team of lawyers completely throwing out Karugire, Kiryowa and Company Advocates who had successfully represented them both in High Court and Court of Appeal. The new lawyers for UBC are Mushabe and Munungu Advocates.

Justices of the Supreme Court lead by the indefatigable Justice Bart Katureebe stood their ground and threw out the settlement, reasoning rather correctly that they cannot sanction a settlement where the Court of Appeal had ruled that there was gross illegality on the part of Haba while attempting to buy the UBC land. Their commendable view was that this matter should be heard exhaustively by this very court and a ruling be made.

Their lordships should be applauded for this patriotic stance they chose to take. With due respect, Basajjabalaba’s Haba Group has been involved in suspicious deals, some of which have cost government billions of shillings. Therefore, the learned justices were spot on to throw away that settlement that smelt mistrust.

The argument by UBC lawyers that UBC was in a rush to recover the titles for the said land to be able to develop it did not hold water at all. Moreover, the matter is before the last appellant court which should be able to deposit it off as soon possible. In fact, what the lawyers from either side should be asking the Court of Appeal is to expedite the judgment such that the winner is free to develop the contested land.

Indeed, most findings by the Auditor General and the IGG have revealed that government is losing so much money through suspicious compensations. This is done through collusion of government lawyers and private lawyers representing several individuals and organisations.

An investigation by the Daily Monitor in 2010 revealed that compensation and court awards to individuals and companies over several years showed evidence of negligence by technocrats and lawyers representing government, mismanagement of lawsuits against the government, and potential collusion with litigants and judicial officers to throw cases. It was established that the government is losing more than Shs200 billion annually through compensation to organisations and individuals whose claims smirked collusion.

1n 2011, government came under severe criticism when a similar suspicious compensation of more than Shs80 billion claimed two ministers. The then Attorney General Kiddu Makubuya , then Finance minister Syda Bumba were forced out of offices disgracefully.

Finally, the gallant advice taken by their lordships justices of the Supreme Court should be applauded. Like they argued, it would have been very wrong for the two parties i.e. UBC and Haba to enter into a consent agreement on a matter where the Court of Appeal had sighted essentials of illegality.