Minister Byandala beats up journalist

Former UNRA director of finance and administration Joe Semugooma (L) and former Works minister Abraham Byandala consult during a court session at the Anti-Corruption Court in Kololo, Kampala, yesterday. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

Kampala- Minister without Portfolio Abraham James Byandala, who is on trial for alleged corruption, yesterday turned court premises into a battle ground when he punched a female television journalist outside the court.

Mr Byandala punched Ms Judith Naluggwa of Bukedde TV in the lower abdomen at the registry of the Anti-Corruption Court in Kololo, Kampala, after the hearing of his case had been adjourned.

When the minister left the courtroom and entered the registry hall, he found journalists who took his photographs as he made his way out. The irritated Byandala released a punch which left the female journalist holding her belly in excruciating pain.

Mr Byandala is on trial in the Anti-Corruption Court on charges of causing government a financial loss of more than Shs24 billion in the Mukono-Katosi road construction project. After the assault, the minister dashed to his car with several journalists pursuing him and exchanging words with him. They advised Ms Naluggwa to file a case with police.

By press time, Ms Naluggwa had filed an assault case against the minister at Jinja Road Police Station, had been reviewed by a police surgeon and was receiving treatment.

During yesterday’s court sitting, a former accountant of Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), Mr Wilberforce Senjako, was also charged with causing financial loss to government and neglect of duty.

He denied the charges and was remanded to prison, pending his application for bail. He joins Mr Byandala in the same case which comes up for further hearing on April 29.
Prosecution states that as the regional accountant for UNRA in Kampala in 2013, Mr Senjako failed or refused to verify performance guarantee and advance payment security bonds issued by Housing Finance Bank to Eutaw, a company contracted to upgrade the Mukono–Katosi road, well knowing that such omission could cause loss of more than Shs24 billion to government.

Court proceedings
Prosecution further contends that Mr Senjako neglected his duty when he failed or refused to verify securities for the road contract.

Other accused persons are former acting UNRA executive director Berunado Ssebbugga Kimeze, former UNRA director for finance and administration Joe Ssemugooma, Eutaw Construction Company country representative Apolo Senkeeto aka Mark Kalyesubula, and Mr Isaac Mugote, a former employee of Housing Finance Bank.

During the same hearing yesterday, it also emerged that negotiations for plea bargaining between Mr Semugooma and the prosecuting agency, the Inspectorate of Government (IGG), had failed.

At the previous sitting, Mr Semugooma and the IGG had told court that they were considering the plea-bargaining option to speed up the disposal of the case.

Plea-bargaining is where the accused agrees with the prosecution to plead guilty to the alleged offence in return for a lenient sentence.
However, the two parties told court yesterday that they had failed to agree on common issues.
Trial judge Lawrence Gidudu blamed both parties for mismanaging the plea-bargaining process and asked them to hold further discussions on the matter and report back to court on April 29.
“If there is any plea-bargaining by either side, it should be taken seriously. And if the plea bargaining is successful, I am prepared to end the proceedings. But if not, I am prepared to proceed with the trial,” Justice Gidudu ruled, describing the case as a matter of public concern.

The judge also directed prosecutor Sarah Birungi to file an amended charge sheet to reflect all the accused persons on the same case file because particulars of the case and the witnesses are the same.

The charges against Byandala

The IGG states that Mr Byandala abused his office as minister of Works when, in a November 14, 2013 letter, he directed UNRA to sign the contract with Eutaw for the Katosi road project yet he knew or had reason to believe that the company lacked capacity to execute the work.

The IGG adds that the minister abused his office by recklessly ordering the continuation of the works on the road by another company, Chongqing International Construction Corporation (CICO), after the Eutaw contract had collapsed.

Eng Byandala is also accused of disobeying lawful orders by directing the continuation of works on the road after the IGG had advised against formalising the dubious sub-contract with CICO to complete the works.