Nandutu’s iron sheets hearing in the balance

State Minister for Karamoja Affairs Agnes Nandutu at the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court in Kampala on May 25, 2023. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

The Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court was yesterday set to hear the evidence of the first two prosecution witnesses against State Minister for Karamoja Affairs Agnes Nandutu in regard to the diversion of the iron sheets meant for the vulnerable people in Karamoja.

“…The accused person (Minister Nandutu) is present in court. This matter was fixed for hearing today (yesterday). We have two witnesses and we are ready to proceed,” Chief State Attorney David Bisamunyu told court presided over by Justice Jane Okuo Kajuga. However, the much anticipated trial did not take off.

The minister’s defence lawyers led by Mr Caleb Alaka and Mr Charles Wamukoota Nandaah in a surprise move made an application to block the trial.

“We have an application to make before you,” Mr Alaka told court.

Summarily, the defence lawyers were seeking the court’s orders to refer a question to the Constitutional Court for interpretation and also halt the trial.

They argued that the contents of the offence as provided for under Section 21 A (1) of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2009 as amended, of dealing with suspect property that their client is facing are not well defined as demanded by Article 28 (12) of the Constitution.

“My lord, I think it’s because of that ambiguity that in the particulars of the offence to which the accused was charged with, another offense is introduced in the particulars. We are saying that penal legislation must be precise and with this kind of offense, she is not guaranteed a fair trial,” Mr Alaka submitted.

Counsel Alaka further submitted that this section is broad, and that they decided as the legal team to test it by filing a petition before the Constitutional Court.

He said the amended Act that minister Nandutu is charged under was intended to prosecute people who deal with property of suspects who have since been convicted by wanting to conceal or hide it.

“The intention of the amendment was to provide for mandatory confiscation of property of the persons convicted of an offense under this Act. It’s in that context that once a person has been convicted and his/ her property which is due to be confiscated is either hidden, received or concealed by another person, that person can then be charged with this offense of dealing with suspect property,” Mr Alaka submitted.

But Chief State Attorney Bisamunyu asked the judge to dismiss the application, reasoning that there is no question warranting a constitutional interpretation. Mr Bisamunyu further argued that the application by Ms Nandutu is a delaying tactic to halt her trial, yet the Constitution calls for a speedy and fair trial.  “Most references unfortunately are an escape from justice and clog the justice system and this could be the reason for this very one,” he said.

Mr Bisamunyu further submitted that the charges against the minister are not ambiguous as claimed by defence lawyers since they name the charge (dealing with suspect’s property) and also prescribe a punishment of up to seven years on conviction, or a fine of 160 currency points (Shs3.2m) or both.

Presiding judge Jane Okuo Kajuga after hearing from both sides, set Monday next week to deliver her ruling.