Teso war claimants review a court document at Soroti High Court.PHOTO/ SIMON PETER EMWAMU

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The politics and fights derailing debt pay for Teso, northern Uganda

What you need to know:

  • A couple of parallel  groups outside those in court are registering fresh lists of claimants, with the claimants now crisscrossing from one group to another, creating more anxiety.

As the three sub-regions of at Teso, Lango, and Acholi scramble to receive compensation from the government for the war losses they incurred, intrigue and politics are threatening to roll back the long wait for their pay out.
Saturday Monitor has established that a couple of parallel  groups outside those in court, are registering fresh lists of claimants, with claimants now crisscrossing from one group to another, creating more anxiety.
On September 7,   the High Court in Soroti  presided over by Justice Henry Adonyo directed that the Attorney General’s office proceeds to verify the Teso war debt claimant’s particulars under the legal representation of lawyer Richard Anguria Omongole.

To the contrary, the Office of the Attorney General started verifying Teso Animal and Property Claimants Organisation (Tapco), which was unknown to court.
Mr Omongole protested the move, writing to the Office of the Attorney General on September 22,  seeking clarification as to why they had relegated the known war debt claimants he represented in favour of Tapco.
In his letter, Mr Omongole states that on September 26, 2019, his law firm, Omongole & Company Advocates delivered boxes and sacks of various list of claimants together with their LC1 letters, identification cards, passports and photographs to enable the Attorney General to come up with a comprehensive list.
“From that list we were directed to do joint verification of the war [debt] claimants, however, we were not called for joint verification up to date,” Mr Omongole added.

The cases that the Soroti judge said should be given precedence are civil suit number 09 of 2012, headed by Mr Paphrus Imodot Edimu and 105 others , Civil suit number 10 of 2012 headed by Mr John Oluka and 9 others. 
The third one is the case headed by Mr Elijah Okupa and 2020 others, filed in 2005. 
The fourth is civil suit number 292 of 2010, headed by former Kapelebyong MP Julius Ochen and 209,000 others. 
In response to Mr Omongole’s letter, Deputy Attorney General Jackson Kafuuzi Karugaba, in a letter addressed to all legal representatives from the three regions, said the compensation process will be benefiting both those in court and those who are not legally in court.Case of Acholi.

In Acholi, the leaders have cried foul over the procedural technicalities and taxing of payments set to be made to members under the Acholi War Debt Claimants Association.
 In November 2020, while addressing the people of Acholi sub-region from the UPDF 4th Division headquarters in Gulu, broadcast on local radio stations, President Museveni declared that Shs150b has been earmarked to pay war victims. 
He was responding to concerns that he had not fulfilled his pledges to pay war veterans in Acholi as well as compensate for livestock, properties, and lives lost during the LRA insurgency, which pledges he made during his 2016 election campaigns.
 Mr Museveni said: “On cattle compensation, we have decided to spend another Shs50 billion in each of the zones of Lango, Teso, and Acholi, totalling Shs150 billion as a budget.”

 Although he did not specify when exactly the cattle compensation would begin, President Museveni stressed that the money will be paid directly into the victims’ accounts but not through heads of their associations or groups.
 A few months later, the validation exercise for the claimants got underway. 
However, while the payment process is expected to start soon, the leaders say the strenuous processes the claimants are being subjected to are deliberately meant to frustrate the victims.

 For example, the leaders say there was no need to condition the claimants to process TIN (tax identification number), letters of administration, and court declarations, among others, before being paid.
 The validation form whose copy Saturday Monitor saw requires a claimant to have a TIN before the money is paid to his/her account.
They must also have a confirmation letter from the veterinary department, specifically a veterinary doctor who was treating the animals at the time they were stolen, besides proof from police indicating that the animals were indeed stolen and had been reported to the police.

 Other requirements include a confirmation letter from the area LC1, Diso, and Giso, indicating the location of the kraal where a claimant lost their animals.
 Documents this newspaper has seen indicate that the validation exercise ended on September 24 but many claimants have failed to meet the requirements.
 The Acholi War Debt Claimants’ Association was established in 2005, but the association has been battling with allegations of leadership wrangles, corruption and mismanagement.
 Mr Sisto Oyet Ocen, the Lamwo District Council chairperson, said this new verification form will knock out many of the genuine claimants because some of them have lost some of the requirements demanded, including supporting letters from the police.

 “They are complicating the process and are delaying the payment because people opened accounts in 2016 and have been blocked,” Mr Oyet said. 
He said the government should not tax the money for compensation because they failed to protect the people and their cattle from being stolen.
 “If the government is compensating people for cattle, they should not tax it. The government was supposed to protect the cattle from being stolen. This is a delaying tactic which shall discourage many of the claimants of cattle lost,” he said.

 But Mr Richard Toodwong, the secretary-general of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, urges the claimants to follow the laid down processes.
 “Government money comes through a process, and this money that the war debt claimants are expecting from the government comes with rules and regulations. Besides, we wouldn’t wish the earlier mess to repeat,” Mr Todwong said.
 “The President was clear that money is paid directly into the claimant’s account. In the past, the association was using private lawyers who were also attaching their legal costs, which retarded the process of the payment,” Mr Todwong said.
 By demanding the claimants to have TINs, Mr Jackson Kafuuzi, the deputy Attorney General, recently said the government intends to rid the process of ghost claimants and ensure that money is paid to the direct beneficiaries.

Some of the war debt claimants from Lango Sub-region queue at PostBank, Lira branch, as they wait to reactivate their accounts on October 4, 2021. PHOTO /BILL OKETCH

 “The stringent procedure is to help us wipe out ghosts from the list of beneficiaries but not to frustrate anyone. You know the government cannot pay ghost claimants,” Mr Kafuuzi said.
 Retired Justice Galdino Okello, the chairperson for the compensation committee of the Acholi War Debt Claimants, said although they had signed an MoU with the government to work together and harmonise the list of claimants on May 27, they were surprised when the government introduced the data card.

 “This appears to be a clear diversion from the directive of the President on the out-of-court settlement because the directives indicate that we have got to negotiate an out of court settlement,” he said.
 “We did not even discuss the content in the data card, we were ambushed with the data card, and the issue of the new verification form should be stopped because it was done in 2016,” Justice Okello said. Data from the Attorney General’s office indicates that 16,946 claimants were approved to be compensated for their cattle.

 Mr Gilbert Olanya, the Kilak County MP, says the delays and frustrations the claimants meet indicate that the government is not interested in paying the claims.
 “There is serious politics in this compensation thing, and the government is not interested. As MPs, we have given government only two years to pay that money and if that fails, they should never come back to bother our people,” Mr Olanya said.
 “When we met the Deputy Attorney General at Bomah Hotel, we agreed on several things but when he returned to Kampala, the Attorney General said whatever his deputy had agreed with the Acholi leaders was unusable, that is frustrating,” Mr Olanya said.

 The Attorney General also openly said they are not going to compensate new claims, except Mr Otinga Otto Atuka, the deputy paramount chief of Acholi, adding that intrigue, politics and confusion among the Acholi was the reason for the delayed payments.
 “There are certain individuals who even until now, are trying to open new groups of claimants, and I wonder what exactly they are looking for. There should be only one group for the entire Acholi region and that is when they will honour it and pay,” Mr Otto said.
He said the groups are fighting for their interests instead of the greater community of Acholi. 

Maj (rtd) Pollar Awich, who is the head of cattle compensation under the law firm of Makmot Kibwanga & Company Advocates, told Saturday Monitor in an interview on Wednesday that their members completed filling payment data card last month and have returned it to the Attorney General where the captured data will be fed into the payment system before the money is released to the bank accounts of the approved beneficiaries.
“The filled data cards were taken back to the Attorney General and we expect payment to start before the end of this month,” Mr Awich said. 

Maj Awich said their members who went to court were more than 60,000, but the Attorney General told them only 42,000 had been cleared for payment.
Through their lawyer, Adams Makmot Kibwanga of Makmot Kibwanga & Company Advocate, the claimants said about 63,000 war claimants from Lango Sub-region dragged the government to court seeking compensation for their lost livestock.

The High Court in Lira in 2014 ruled that the claimants under their umbrella body, Lango War Claimants Association, be compensated by the government for loss of livestock and other properties during the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in northern Uganda.
The court ordered the government to pay Shs5 million and 25 per cent interest to each claimant for general damages.
This was after the war claimants sued the government in 2010, demanding Shs1.2 trillion in compensation for livestock lost during the conflict.
In his ruling, then High Court judge Simon Byabakama Mugenyi said it was the responsibility of the government to protect the residents and their properties during the conflict. He then ordered the government to pay the claimants in cash. 

Court valued each sheep and goat at Shs150, 000, a pig at Shs250,000 and each cow at Shs900,000.
There is also another group of claimants under Akello Betty and Francis Ongia with more than 60,000 claimants represented by Alex Bashasha and Company Advocates.
Former Lands minister Daniel Omara Atubo has also come out to represent the people who lost their livestock in the Lango sub-region, but never went to court. Omara Atubo started registering livestock claimants on Monday November 1, after forming structures of district and sub-county coordinators, parish and village registrars to generate a fresh list of claimants. 

REQUIREMENTS
Claimants

The validation form whose copy Saturday Monitor saw requires a claimant to have a TIN before the money is paid to his/her account.
 They must also have a confirmation letter from the veterinary department, specifically a veterinary doctor who was treating the animals at the time they were stolen, besides proof from police indicating that the animals were indeed stolen and had been reported to the police.

 Other requirements include a confirmation letter from the area LC1, Diso, and Giso, indicating the location of the kraal where a claimant lost their animals.
 Documents this newspaper has seen indicate that the validation exercise ended on September 24 but many claimants have failed to meet the requirements.
 

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