Lawyers representing sections of the families that lost their loved ones and property during insurgency that raged on in the Teso sub-region between 1986 and 2003, are crying foul over the manner in which the office of the Attorney General (AG) is handling the process of verifying claimants.
One of the lawyers, Mr Richard Omongole, accuses the office of the AG of going about the verification of claimants in a manner that facilitates fraud.
“We are left puzzled as to who is being paid? At what rate? And where? All those questions leave us with a genuine worry that our legitimate clients’ money is either being paid to wrong persons, fraudulently being taken or deliberately mishandled or is simply being stolen if not diverted for other purposes,” the letter reads in part.
The lawyers question why the AG is proceeding with plans to pay when the claimants are yet to open accounts. Verification of the right amounts including the costs and interest directed by court, have also not been arrived at.
Earlier, the affected families filed two suits, Elijah Okupa and others versus the AG, which was filed in 2005 and Julius Ochen and others versus the AG, which was filed in 2009.
Court ruled in their favour and ordered government to pay the claimants.
It was not possible to talk to the Solicitor General, Mr Francis Atooke, but the spokesperson of the AG’s office, Mr Simon Peter Jamba, said no payments have been made.
“There is no payment going on. Payments will be effected at a later stage. The Shs10b (a contribution from President Museveni which was channeled through the AG’s office to pay some of the claimants) is intact,” Mr Jamba said.
The lawyer’s letter came against a backdrop of accusations that the AG’s personnel had had blown up a substantial part of the Shs10b on paying themselves travel and overnight per diems in December last year in the name of conducting a verification exercise that never was.
Mr Jamba, however, said the money that was spent was provided under the budget of the AG, adding that what has been conducted is an exercise to validate the verification that was conducted in Teso and Lango sub regions in 2016.
“The purpose is to weed out fake and fraudulent claims. We also think this gives an opportunity to the claimants to correct the information that was captured where errors were made,” he said.
Mr Omongole said the lists from the AG’s office has only about 7,000 names yet there are about half a million claimants.
Mr Egusberito Okello, 79, a war claimant told Sunday Monitor at his home in Omengenya, Odela in Gweri Sub-county, that the have been pinned include only claimants who were registered by the Ministry of Teso Affairs and partly those who were registered by the Teso Animal & Property Compensation Organisation (TAPCO).
TAPCO is a parallel compensation entity that came into being in 2009, with its proponents entering concert agreement with the government in 2010.
Contempt of court
Mr Omongole also said if the office of the AG is carrying out any verification as it claims, it is being pursued in a manner that could be construed to amount to contempt of court.
He pointed out that a joint verification that the court had directed to be carried out within six months from January 2018 was never carried out, adding that the AG’s decision to proceed without involving the litigants and their lawyers is in contempt of court and court orders.
He said legal action will be taken against the AG, but Mr Jamba denies any wrongdoing on the part of the AG.
“The exercise being conducted is not in any way in contempt of court. This is only a validation of the findings from the verification exercise,” Mr Jamba said.
Teso region was attacked by forces belonging to Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movements in 1986, became a theatre of war between 1987 and 1993 as the National Resistance Army (NRA) battled rebels of the late Peter Otai’s Uganda People’s Army (UPA) and between 2003 and 2004 when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony made and incursion into the region.