Fight over Makerere legal deals heats up

Makerere University main building before it was gutted by fire. The fight over the job of the university director of legal affairs has intensified. PHOTO/ File 

What you need to know:

  • Mr Javason Kamugisha, who was axed on May 4, 2022 as the university director of legal affairs, has been ordered back to office.
  • Mr Kamugisha’s woes started when he questioned payment to a law firm linked to one of the council members that is not among the law firms pre-qualified by the university as external lawyers.

The Makerere University Staff Appeals Tribunal on Thursday ordered the reinstatement of Mr Javason Kamugisha as the university director of legal affairs.
Mr Kamugisha, who formerly worked as the legal and corporate affairs manager at the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), was axed on May 4, 2022, after spending 10 months on probation.
He previously worked at the university between 2000 and 2007 as a teaching assistant at the School of Law.  On June 1, 2021, he bounced back as the university’s legal affairs director subject to a six-month probation.

On December 20, 2021, the appointments board at its 671st sitting pondered his confirmation but rather extended it by another six months, according to submissions before the tribunal, “to enable him rectify some anomalies regarding his confirmation.”
One of the anomalies was that Mr Kamugisha, during the first probation, had been appraised by the university secretary, Mr Yusuf Kiranda, who was listed by the former as one of two referees, which posed conflict of interest. Mr Kiranda’s appraisal report, the university noted, “was not competent for consideration for the confirmation process.”

In the appraisal report, Mr Kiranda as the former’s immediate supervisor scored him 93 percent, which the appointments board deemed fishy.
On February 15, 2022, Mr Kamugisha was notified of extension of his probation during which the appointments board counselled that he should be appraised again. The then acting deputy vice chancellor (DVC) for finance administration, Prof Henry Alinaitwe, was assigned on March 4, 2022, to appraise the former. He scored 89 percent.
The appointments board, according to documents, during its May 4, 2021 sitting, tasked Prof Alinaitwe to justify his score for each of the performance indicators. One member present during the meeting narrated that two officials with leverage over other members argued that the DVC did not have sufficient tools for appraisal.

During the same stormy meeting, the board resolved to terminate the contract of Mr Kamugisha together with that of the director for human resource, Mr Davis Malowa. The former had also started work on June 1, 2021, subject to a six-month probation.
Upon axing on May 4, 2021, Messrs Kamugisha and Malowa immediately petitioned the staff appeals tribunal chaired by retired High Court judge Patrick Tabaro, over alleged illegal terminations. The tribunal has four other members. A ruling on Malowa’s appeal against his termination is due in the coming days.

Things fall apart
After two open hearings in the Mr Kamugisha appeal, the defence requested for written submissions to the tribunal. 
According to documents submitted to the tribunal, the former detailed eight grounds to challenge his termination, to which the university responded in detailed legalese.

However, one of the footnotes buried in voluminous submissions is the long-standing questionable payments to lawyers and law firms orchestrated and syndicated by the university’s top brass.
Sunday Monitor understands the syndicate takes several forms. Law firms, some linked to officials in management and council, are assigned work. 
All law firms providing legal services to Makerere University are supposed to be prequalified as per PPDA regulations.
Some of the officials accused of orchestrating the syndicate are mentioned in the documents. 

However, Makerere University detailed in its defence thus: “It should be clearly stated categorically on the onset that the officials in the issue are not parties to this appeal. They cannot, therefore, rebut and render an explanation to the allegations levelled against them by the appellant.”
It further added: “We urge this tribunal to disregard the submissions on this aspect, which will be in accordance [with] the rules of natural justice.”
The Inspectorate of Government and the State House Anti-Corruption Unit have been petitioned before to look into the matter. The status of the probes remains unclear.

Conflict of interest?
Mr Kamugisha told this newspaper “everything you need to know, if at all any, is detailed in my submissions to the tribunal” before referring us to his lawyers JByamukama and Co Advocates for further inquiries.
Sunday Monitor understands that Mr Kamugisha’s woes started when he questioned payment to a law firm linked to one of the council members that is not among the law firms pre-qualified by the university as external lawyers.

The law firm, the university defended, was only paid Shs8.5 million as honorarium. Mr Kamugisha details that the Shs8.5 million was what broke the proverbial camel’s back after he declined to sign off the initial hefty requisition sent through by the law firm.
Makerere University rubbished Mr Kamugisha’s claims as “distortions and exaggerations.” University officials  also accused Mr Kamugisha of having represented the university in court in only one case as opposed to the 49 cases he detailed in his appeal against unfair termination. 

Payments bonanza
The university also claimed that Mr Kamugisha had advised to settle the Mubaale Wycliff and 59 others Vs Makerere University case, which would have resulted in financial loss. The 60 claimants were former university employees between 1985 and 2002, but were given temporary appointment letters and later terminated in 2013 without any lawful reason. The claimants were then deleted from the payroll without any notice.
However, there was the case of Anna Wadero and 10 others Vs Makerere University with similar ingredients, which was settled in the labour court. In his October 18, 2021, advisory to management, Mr Kamugisha noted that “the university cannot settle with one category and ignore the other where the subject matter of the dispute is the same.”

In its defence, the University argued that Kamugisha was tasked to defend the settlement of Shs300m to claimants in the Mubaale case but without basis. On the other hand, Mr Kamugisha told us that some of his erstwhile bosses did not want the case settled out of court. The university, however, stood to lose upwards Shs1b and for which matter he sought advice from prequalified external lawyers—H & G advocates—with knowledge of management.
In appealing against his termination, Mr Kamugisha argued that the appointments board erred in law and facts in declining to confirm him as director of legal.
“There were a number of work-related incidents that bred and led to the arbitrary nature of dealing with the appellant’s employment contract. His termination was a pure case of retaliation,” his lawyers told the tribunal, according to submissions.

Internal audit
Another cause of fallout, according to documents and accounts we have seen, was the January 2022 internal audit of the university’s directorate of legal affairs. 
Among the factors affecting the functionality of the directorate, according to the report seen by this newspaper, is unwillingness by some members of the legal, rules and privileges committee of the University Council to settle some glaringly bad cases against the university.
“There are cases which should have been settled by now, but we recommend them to management and they have to first recommend them to the legal, rules and privileges committee, which takes long to sit,” the audit report reads in part. 

“Even when they sit, they prefer to follow guidance on cases which was given in their retreat of April, 14-18, 2021. However, some cases were not discussed in that meeting. We have to wait for another retreat, however this is not in tandem with court timelines or procedures.”
Mr Kamugisha’s lawyers argued that as director of legal affairs, he was directly responsible for the performance of his directorate, but his method of work brought him in conflict with top management.
“The appellant reported all this to his immediate supervisor, the university secretary. However, the same chairperson of the legal, rules and privileges committee was also one of the members of the appointments board, who determined the appellant’s fate,” his lawyers argued.

Untouchables

The same legal, rules and privileges committee, during its 25 sitting, had disagreed with both the opinions of Mr Kamugisha and H & G Advocates on settlement of the Mubaale Wycliff and 59 others Vs Makerere University case.
The legal, rules and privileges committee accused the former of “selectively choosing to review documents in the court file and yet the legal, rules and privileges committee members read the file exhaustively; misguiding the committee on the law and providing partial information, which advice was geared at leading to making a decision that was against the interests of the university.”

Consequently, the case of Mubaale Wycliff and 59 others Vs Makerere University is before court against logical advice.
“This is one of the ways through which university cases are unprofessionally managed, leading to unnecessary costs against the university.”
The audit of the university directorate also cautioned the appointments board against omnibus internal prosecution of cases without cogent evidence to sustain the preferred charges. In doing so, this would reduce the amount of money paid out in costs against the university.

Mr Kamugisha’s lawyers told the tribunal that their client was, however, not supposed to question directives by the appointments board even when he believed they had legal gaps.
“Members of the appointments board, some of whom also doubled as members of the legal, rules and privileges committee, could not hide their hatred for this honesty and desire to avoid malicious prosecution,” the lawyers concluded.
 

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