Iron sheets scandal: Nandutu trial to go on, says court

State minister for Karamoja Affairs Agnes Nandutu (centre) with her lawyers at court on May 29, 2023. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The judge said there is nothing warranting constitutional interpretation.

The Anti-Corruption Court has ruled that the trial of State minister for Karamoja Affairs Agnes Nandutu should start.

Ms Nandutu is charged with dealing with suspect property in connection with the alleged mismanagement of iron sheets meant for the vulnerable communities in Karamoja.

This follows a ruling yesterday by Justice Jane Okuo Kajuga, who held that there is no need to refer to the Constitutional Court for interpretation on the clarity of the charges of “dealing with suspect property” preferred against the minister.

“In the instant case, therefore, for the reasons advanced, I decline to refer the question raised because, on the face of it, I don’t see anything warranting constitutional interpretation as I had earlier said. I find the provision clear and understandable, and I don’t see any infringement on Article 28 (12) of the Constitution,” Justice Okuo ruled.

She added: “In light of the foregoing, therefore, I decline to halt the criminal proceedings against the accused in this court, I dismiss the application.”

Justice Okuo observed that whereas it is not illegal for an aggrieved party to file a petition before the Constitutional Court and at the same time ask the lower court to refer a question to the Constitutional Court for interpretation, the two procedures are unnecessary as they clog the justice system.

“I am of the considered view that Article 137 creates two avenues for taking the matter to the Constitutional Court either through the petition or a reference. Whereas it’s not illegal to pursue both, it is in my view only prudent to avoid multiplicity of cases and clogging of the judicial system. An aggrieved party should choose one of the choices,” Justice Okuo said.

“In this case, a petition has already been filed, and referring the same question to the Constitutional Court for consideration, in my view, is unnecessary and amounts to a deliberate attempt to stay this particular trial,” she added.

Last week, the Bududa District Woman MP had, through her defence lawyers led by Caleb Alaka, argued that the contents of the charges as provided for under Section 21 A (1) of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2009 as amended in dealing with suspect property, are not well defined as demanded by Article 28 (12) of the Constitution.

Mr Alaka said the amended Anti-Corruption Act that Ms Nandutu is charged under was intended to prosecute people who deal with property of suspects who have since been convicted but are attempting to conceal or hide it. 

This, according to Mr Alaka, does not apply to Ms Nandutu since no one has been convicted yet in her case.

Shortly after the ruling, Mr Evans Ochieng, a defence lawyer, asked the court to grant them a week’s adjournment to re-organise their house before the hearing can begin.

Mr Alaka said they will also be seeking injunctive orders from the Constitutional Court to stop the pending trial so that the constitutionality of the charges against the minister are first determined. 
Justice Okuo granted the request.

It is the prosecution’s case that between June and July 2022, Ms Nandutu dealt with government property to wich 2,000 pre-painted iron sheets of gauge 28 marked Office of the Prime Minister at the Office of the Prime Minister’s stores in Namanve, and in Kkola Cell, Bulwanyi Parish, Mukono District.
The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) further contends that there is reason to believe that they were acquired as a result of loss of public property, an offence under Section 10 (1) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2009 as amended.

Ms Nandutu, who is out on bail, has since denied the charges slapped against her.

She is one of three ministers who have so far been arraigned before courts of law in connection with the alleged diversion of iron sheets meant for vulnerable people of Karamoja.

Others are Dr Mary Goretti Kitutu (Karamoja Affairs) and Mr Amos Lugoloobi (State for Finance, Planning and Economic Development).