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Court awards hit sh164b mark
Publish Date: Aug 12, 2014
Court awards hit sh164b mark
(Left-right) Ministry of Justice; Denis Bireje (commissioner for Legal Affairs), Solicitor General Francis Atoke, Ernest Bafaki (under Secretary) appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer queries about the unaccounted public funds. Photo/Enock Kakande
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By Moses Walubiri

Solicitor General Francis Atoke has admitted that court awards and compensations are spiraling out of control with the latest data putting the figure at sh164b – a 200% spike over a spell of 12 months.

 
Atoke avers that Government is not doing enough to quickly clear court awards and compensations whose high interests are compounding an already dire situation.

Under Uganda’s legal framework, awards and compensations are granted by courts of law and human rights tribunals to victims of human rights abuse.

“Some of these cases are open and shut cases. In such instances, there is little we can do. Imagine an accounting officer cancelling a contract well aware of the legal consequences,” Atoke told legislators on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Tuesday.

Atoke (middle) has admitted that court awards and compensations are spiraling out of control with the latest data putting the figure at sh164b – a 200% spike over a spell of 12 months

Commissioner Legal Affairs in Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Dennis Bireje, revealed that some of the court awards are attracting over sh6m in interest every day, almost making it impossible to clear the principal sum.
 
“Some of these awards have interests of a commercial rate which are fetching millions on a daily basis. Clearing these awards will be hard unless the payment is expedited,” Bireje noted.

Cases in this category include Picfare (U) Ltd. Vs Attorney General whose interest is sh7.2m every day. 

The award of sh12b from June 2001 has an interest rate of 22%, giving it an annual interest of sh2.6b.
 
Others include Prime Contractors Ltd Vs Attorney General whose interest rate of 22% from July 2010 is accruing sh1.2b in interest annually and Adonia Tumusiime & 318 v Attorney General which has the highest interest at sh18m every day (sh6.5b annually).

However, the case of Annet Zimbiha Vs Attorney General made MPs Alice Alaso, Eddie Kwizera and Margaret Kiboijanao query the modus operandi Government follows in selecting who to compensate.

In 1964, Government unlawfully turned the widow’s land in Isingiro district into Oruchinga Refugee Camp. The court award and interest (at 23%) has seen the figure rise to sh30b.

With Government disbursing a paltry sh1b per quarter to clear court awards (sh4b annually), according to Ernest Bafaki, a Commissioner in ministry of justice, some legislators on PAC have urged government to explore the possibility of acquiring a loan to clear court awards. 

Although this suggestion by PAC vice chairperson, Paul Mwiru, has gained traction in another committee of parliament – Legal and parliamentary Affairs – Atoke contends that decentralizing payment of court awards “will make accounting officers more responsible.”

If the new arrangement gets the nod from the executive, every government agency, district, ministry or department will foot its bill for court awards for acts of its bureaucrats.

Last month, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi told parliament that government is toying with the idea of ‘tweaking’ the law to make bureaucrats who cause government losses in form of court awards to be personally held liable.
 

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