In a move that is likely to risk workers’ savings, city advocate Joseph Byamugisha has handed the National Social Security Fund a whooping Shs30 billion bill for legal services he rendered for a case that now spans more than a decade.
Dr Byamugisha has made a formal demand for payment for representing NSSF in its protracted 14-year legal battle against Alcon International, including interest accrued over the years, but NSSF lawyers have dismissed the bill as “exorbitant”.
Through his lawyers MMAKS Advocates, Dr Byamugisha has filed client bills before various courts, demanding a total of Shs31.2 billion as bills for instruction fees for leading counsel in the highly-charged and complex NSSF versus Alcon appeal case.
The development may not come as a welcome surprise to the bulk of Uganda’s working citizens whose monthly contributions of about Shs40b inform NSSF’s net portfolio, now in excess of Shs2 trillion.
On Wednesday, the worker’s Fund through attorneys Ms Kasirye, Byaruhanga and Co. Advocates, formally told the Supreme Court, which is currently assessing a Shs 9 billion bill of costs Dr Byamugisha filed for services executed at the court, that the advocate’s bill is downright “exorbitant.”
The lawyers also argued that the Supreme Court does not have the necessary jurisdiction to handle Advocate-client bills, as the practice has rendered that function to the High Court. However, Court set March 29 as the date to determine Dr Byamugisha’s payment demands.
In May 2010, Dr Byamugisha was unceremoniously withdrawn as the Fund’s external lawyer handling the Alcon case and replaced by Kenyan lawyer Prof. Githu Muigai who also withdrew from the case after he was appointed Attorney General of Kenya. The NSSF management did not give any reasons for Dr Byamugisha’s withdrawal but it is understood the current Board and management were not happy with the pleadings he filed in the appeal.
It is understood that the apparent unavailability of Prof. Muigai allegedly caused a friction between top managers at the Fund over which lawyer should be hired, leaving Mr Godfrey Lule as the last man standing of three lawyers who had been assembled to represent NSSF.
The court case dates as far back as 1998, after Alcon International, a construction firm, sued NSSF for wrongful termination of a contract to build the multibillion shillings Workers House in Kampala and demanded $28 million (about Shs67 billion) in compensation. An arbitration process ensued, reducing the compensation claims to $8.8million (about Shs19 billion) although NSSF still disputes the figures.
On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear an application by NSSF seeking to amend their appeal pleadings to incorporate the argument that the contract to construct Workers House had been handed to a subsidiary of Alcon International in Kenya, and not its Ugandan entity, which eventually sued the fund and claimed compensation for breach of contract.