On the eve of the Constitutional Court contest between government and former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, President Museveni on Monday met the National Resistance Movement parliamentary caucus and said the corruption charges against his former deputy had no merit.
The President’s comments have, however, been criticised as a political and legal embarrassment. The President is quoted to have said: “What I know is that there was a power struggle between Bukenya and some businessmen but I found no merit in the case. But since the Inspectorate of Government is an independent body, let them investigate thoroughly.”
Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko confirmed the President’s comments yesterday. “He told us last evening that there is no merit in Bukenya’s case. He said Bukenya is being victimised.”
Ordinarily, such comments on a matter before court are considered as being in “contempt of court,” and aimed at prejudicing court’s decision. “It is against the sub judice rule and one can be sent to prison. The reason is to guard against influencing or biasing the decision of court,” Judiciary spokesman Elias Kisawuzi explained last evening.
Mr Kisawuzi said the law remains the same, “only that the President enjoys immunity (from prosecution)”. Senior constitutional lawyers, Prof. Fredrick Ssempebwa and Mr Peter Walubiri, echoed the same sentiments. “If he (President) said it, it was improper. He should let the justice system take its course. You know the President’s word is strong,” Prof. Ssempebwa said.
Yesterday, acting Attorney General Frederick Ruhindi declined to comment, referring this newspaper to the NRM spokesperson and the President’s Office. The acting IGG, Mr Raphael Baku, who is prosecuting Prof. Bukenya, however, took a philosophical view of things. “What I know is that the case is ongoing and even today (Tuesday) we were in court and we will wait for the outcome from court,” he said yesterday.
Prof. Bukenya last evening welcomed the President’s comments. In court, his defence team attacked the prosecution as unconstitutional and asked that the charges be quashed.
Mr Ben Wacha and MacDusman Kabega told a Coram headed by Deputy Chief Justice and head of the Constitutional Court Mpagi Bahigeine that Mr Baku acted with bias in order to “appease the appointing authority so that he is elevated”.
Prof. Bukenya was charged before the Anti-Corruption Court with abuse of office and fraudulent practice for allegedly directing that a deal to lease executive vehicles be given to Motorcare Ltd, a company which charged more than what another bidder, Spear Motors Ltd, quoted leading to the loss of billions. He secured an interim injunction on his prosecution.
Mr Kabega argued that the charge sheet was defective in that Mr Baku signed it as acting IGG. He said Article 223 of the Constitution only provides for IGG and Deputy IGG and in signing the charge sheet as “acting IGG,” Mr Baku acted in capacity of a non-existent office.
Mr Wacha initially argued that Prof. Bukenya’s directives fell under Articles 111 and 112 of the Constitution to which the principle of collective responsibility applies. But Mr Henry Oluka, submitting for prosecution, said immunity applied only to the Office of President, adding that there was no evidence of ill-will to warrant accusation of bias by Mr Baku.
Justice Bahigeine said the court will decide on notice.