Shs13b given to me for Mbabazi case was peanuts, says lawyer

What you need to know:

The country was last month yanked by news that court had awarded Shs12.9 billion, almost twice the entire Judiciary’s annual wage bill, to a little-known lawyer.

The country was last month yanked by news that court had awarded Shs12.9 billion, almost twice the entire Judiciary’s annual wage bill, to a little-known lawyer who blocked Parliament from forcing PM Amama Mbabazi, Ministers Sam Kutesa and Hilary Onek to ‘step aside’. The trio was accused of taking bribes from foreign oil firms. Registrar Erias Kisawuzi curiously read the December 24, 2012 Constitutional Court ruling almost two months later. Petitioner Saverino Twinobusingye, 43, says the money awarded to him is “peanuts” and scoffs at the job of RDC, which he was offered in Kabale, as for ‘grassing’ individuals. Both Mbabazi and State House paid Twinobusingye’s fees, and he says he will do anything to defend the PM and President Museveni. He told our reporter, Tabu Butagira, in an interview that those upset by the Shs12.9 billion billing can go and hang, before berating the deputy Attorney General Frederic Ruhindi and Commercial Court Judge Singh Choudry.

Could you just walk me through whom Severino Twinobusingye is?
I am a lawyer, a philosopher and an Advocate of the High Court of the Uganda. I come from Kinkizi West constituency, Nyamirama Sub-county. Before I came into legal practice, I worked as a Nutrition and Early Child Development projects manager for Rukungiri and Kanungu district.

I worked with the Electoral Commission as election management officer for eight and a-half years and left civil service employment in 2011. From January 1, 2012, I began legal practice by setting up my own chambers. Besides, I have been a politician; was the district youth councillor for Nyamirama Sub-county and I have been an NRM mobiliser since 1992.

After the 1996 elections, President Museveni offered me a State House scholarship. For the last 20 years, I have worked very closely with Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, and he paid my tuition at high school through the Amama Mbabazi Foundation.

What really motivated you to file Constitutional Petition 47 of 2011 challenging a parliamentary resolution requiring Mbabazi and two other ministers to step aside over allegations of receiving bribes from foreign oil companies?
This was connected to my background of political involvement with Mr Mbabazi. I have always voted and mobilised for him and President Museveni. So, what motivated me was that I saw Mbabazi and the President being ferociously attacked by Parliament, and my immediate instinct as a lawyer was: How could this happen?

I thought that I had a responsibility to contribute to our jurisprudence. And the moment Mbabazi and Gen. Museveni are attacked, at that point I cease to be a spectator; I become an active participant to defend them because they are my leaders to whom I owe my allegiance. When they are attacked and threatened with evictions from their respective positions, I also me feel that my voting rights have been rigged and, therefore, I must move to defend them.

The infamous October 2011 parliamentary recall for oil debate was a mob justice at its worst, violating cardinal principles of civil discourse and civility. It required somebody very courageous to go to court and stop this miscarriage of justice and impunity of some members of the 9th Parliament.

MPs Gerald Karuhanga and Theodore Ssekikubo, who forged the documents [presented] in Parliament for that infamous debate, must face criminal prosecution.

And by now they should have internalised what the Constitutional Court judges noted in their ruling; that parliamentary immunity is not absolute. So, if you are on the floor of the House debating and in the process you commit a crime, you cannot say you committed that crime under a privilege and, therefore, police cannot arrest you. I have given them a notice!

Are you going to sue them?
Yes, I am going to prosecute them privately.

For what offence?
For forgery, uttering false documents and theft.

Did either Mbabazi or the President prod you to file the constitutional petition in clothe to the then embattled ministers?

Neither of them approached me. Mbabazi and the President knew about the petition through the press. In fact, when I filed this constitutional petition, I went to Mbabazi because I wanted him to sign an affidavit for me and he told me he could not.

He told me in very plain language that, Severino, this is politics, leave it and I am not ready to give you my affidavit. I left him. My motive to go to court was also to set a legal precedent and ensure constitutionalism and the rule of law is respected.

As I pointed out earlier, when the Movement is threatened, I don’t have to wait for orders, I will act because I think I understand the Movement philosophy. The documents MP Karuhanga tendered in Parliament had allegations against the person of President Museveni: that he personally received bribes. So my understanding as a lawyer, was if you set a precedent of chasing Mbabazi, Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa and (then Energy Minister) Hilary Onek from office, the next one was going to be the Head of State. I understood that Uganda was not prepared for the cost of overthrowing a government in a manner that was not envisaged under the Constitution. I wouldn’t have accepted it.

Did you find a conflict of interest suing government when you were in its employment at the Electoral Commission?
I resigned soon after filing this Constitutional Petition 47 of 2011 because to me Uganda was more important than a small job at the Electoral Commission. I could do without it and moved to save Uganda from a crisis because if Uganda was in a crisis of that nature, which was likely to bring about a change of the regime, the Electoral Commission would be no more. When the guns begin talking, the law is silent.

Let’s go to the elephant in the house; the Shs12.9 billion that court awarded to you. Some analysts say this unprecedented award was astronomical and undeserved for a public interest suit.
Let me clarify; coming to me is Shs11b, not 12b. The other bill is for government taxes.
It is true [the award] is unprecedented just like the case itself. Their Lordships acknowledged that it was the first time in the history of Uganda that you have an injunction issued against the third arm of government (Parliament). This case also helped to define ‘stepping aside’ as resignation, and in this matter, forced resignation. The third principle the case set related to the separation of powers; the parameters between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. So, we were able in this case to create new jurisprudence.

Now, what surprised me about the reactions to (the Shs12.9 billion award) was that by the Deputy Attorney General, Fred Ruhindi.

When I served Mr Ruhindi, I met him in front of the Ministry of Justice headquarters and we engaged in some kind of altercation and he said: Severino, how can you fleece the country?

He was trying to portray me as being inconsiderate and forgot that we came to that unprecedented action because of the misbehaviour of some Members of Parliament. And my understanding as a lawyer is that this misbehaviour was because he has failed to give correct legal advice.

When he addressed Parliament that day in the afternoon, he lied. The first lie was that the taxation proceedings were conducted in the absence of the Attorney General. This was absolutely false. As a matter of fact, the Attorney General’s chamber throughout the proceedings was represented by Senior State Attorney George Kalemera assisted by a State Attorney Dan Gantungo. These two state attorneys presented their proposal to court and my lawyers presented theirs. Court ruled in my favour. Secondly, he lied that the file had gone missing from the Court Registry (yet) at that point, he had neither asked for it nor taken due diligence to recover it.

At this point he was trying to portray that there was something fishy going on in court and in the process he raised unnecessary suspicion and turned Parliament against the Judiciary.

Lie number three was that there was connivance between the petitioner; myself, and some judicial officers. He did not produce any iota of evidence to back up these empty and false assertions and Parliament was infuriated.

Ruhindi also lied that he was going to investigate the taxing master (Constitutional Court Registrar Erias Kisawuzi), which would be unconstitutional. His veiled attack on the Judiciary was wrong.

Another lie he told was to purport that the Attorney General has mandate to investigate the Judiciary. He doesn’t. The only thing that the Attorney General, if it is not satisfied with the ruling, can do is to appeal [the ruling].

There were two arguments that informed the Court’s consideration of the award: The subject matter; in this case the value of Uganda’s entire oil wealth and the cost of overthrowing the legitimately elected government.

We asked for a very small figure of about Shs23 billion, not trillions of shillings which we could have asked for, and court in its wisdom gave us that very little money, just peanuts of about $5 million.

I also want to emphasise that a case like ours has no scale where one should begin or end in terms of taxation. The discretion is of the Taxing Master (in this case Kisawuzi). The Lordships agreed this was an unprecedented case. We explored noble points of law for the first time in our jurisprudence and so the Taxing Master did the right thing. There is no law His Worship Erias Kisawuzi broke, and you cannot try him anywhere.

The Attorney General has no basis, legal or otherwise, to purport to poison the public and Parliament that he is going to investigate and I can guarantee the moment I learn of it; that he is doing it, I will immediately [strike].
When the centre of gravity is at attack, I don’t become observer; I become a participant and will file another suit.

Secondly, by insinuating connivance between the Taxing master and me, he was poisoning the entire atmosphere [and in effect] advocating for mob justice and seeking cheap popularity, something we least expected him to do. Instead of ensuring harmony among the different arms of government, the deputy Attorney General is instead creating a big rift.

So by thinking that he can intimidate the judges; such that when he (appeals the ruling) he finds them already beaten into submission to his favour, is a mistake on his part, because this is a travesty of justice. You cannot go to court by first intimidating the judges in a hope that when you go, they will rule you in your favour. I would like to warn him [Mr Ruhindi], to stop bad-mouthing the Registrar of the Court of Appeal/Constitutional Court, the court generally and my lawyers.

The public perception is that court awarded you this generous amount because of your association with the Premier and the President. Do you see politics having played a part in this ruling?

This was on the basis of pure legal arguments. It has no politics involved. The President was not involved in influencing the outcome of the case and Prime Minister Mbabazi opposed my decision to go to court. At some point, the President during an NRM retreat at the National Leadership Institute, Kyankwanzi urged the Prime Minister to tell his voter, which is I, to discontinue the case. And the learned Attorney General, Mr Peter Nyombi, once called me for a meeting at Kabira Country Club (in Bukoto) and he told me that the President had sent him to tell me to withdraw this case. I told Mr Nyombi that many people didn’t seem to understand why I went to court. They would understand it after judgement and for that reason I was not withdrawing the petition and I didn’t wish to discuss with you the matter anymore. I told him to give the same message to the President.

Regarding the perception about the cash award, this (Shs12.9b) is a modest figure; it is very small and it is not true that it is the biggest reward in the Commonwealth jurisdiction. The deputy Attorney General deliberately tried to incite Parliament and the public against the Judiciary and he did it in bad faith. I have registered a complaint to the President, who is his appointing authority, to take appropriate action against the minister for abuse of office and willful violation of the oath.
In The New Vision of March 4, 2013 (page 6), it was reported that Justice Singh Choudry penned down to the Chief that he wants me disbarred and struck off (High Court Advocate’s roll). Uganda is firmly built on the principles of rule of law, constitutionalism, and good governance. So, when I filed that case, the matter was tried and determined through due legal process.

If Justice Choudry had known the implications of what he’s [alleged to have] done, he wouldn’t have done it. I have lodged a complaint against him before the Judicial Service Commission because his behaviour is unbecoming. It is professional misconduct; he [reportedly] applied to the Chief Justice to allocate him the file so that he can tax it himself. I went to court (and) this is what Choudry has charged me with, tried me secretly and convicted me and he is asking [I be punished]!

You said PM Mbabazi was opposed to you going to court, he refused to swear you an affidavit, so what interactions have you had with him since you were awarded Shs12.9 billion?
We have not interacted over this matter. I have no reason to talk about it with him. Why would I be talking to him about it? He had no interest in this case, why would I be asking him now?

You argue that this case was apolitical while explaining that you have for almost half your life been in the political trenches, mobilising for the ruling NRM, Mbabazi and the President. Was it a coincidence that you were appointed Kabale Resident District Commissioner about the same time you went to court?

I have worked as an active member of NRM for 20 years. I earn on average Shs30 million per month in my legal chambers, sometimes more. Why do you think I should have been rewarded with the job of an RDC where I (would) earn less than a million shillings per month? What kind of reward would that be? Does it make sense?

The question is; was it some happy accident that you were named RDC after you filed Constitutional petition 47 of 2011?
I think appointing me RDC was just a normal assignment. They wanted me to offer services to the country. Not that I was being rewarded, otherwise I don’t understand what kind of reward [that would be] where I presently earn millions of money per month, and you come telling me [be an RDC] to take one pick-up [truck for official travel], without even fuel, one soldier/guard in a very funny-looking office! It [the appointment] only happened. By the President appointing me RDC, I think he was making one point, that he has confidence in me.

Did you turn down the job?
It’s not true that I turned down the job; I only happened to be extremely busy I could not run the two offices at the same time – the other being a Public Service job.

Would you consider it if the President, whom you say has confidence in you, appointed you to serve this country as a minister even when still in private legal practice?
I would see the convenience, because you see from here to Kabale, how many kilometers is it? I even informed [Museveni) that I am available to offer my national service as I have always continued to do, but this one (RDC’s job) was extremely difficult.

Erias Kisawuzi cites the nature of legal research involved as one reason to justify the Shs12.9b award. What did it take for you to successfully argue out this case, legally speaking?
It is true that [research] was one of the so many reasons; the case involved extensive research including in foreign jurisdictions since the case was unprecedented.

What is it that you looked for and obtained in foreign jurisdictions?
How [to ground a] government machinery to halt temporarily; to be able to achieve and realise the rights of one individual against the state.

Did the research involve foreign travels or it was something done online or by making overseas telephone calls within the comfort of your office? In any case, which countries did you visit in the process of your research?
The research involved both [foreign travel and sourcing information online]. But the most important principles that govern something of this nature is that the point of law that have been expounded are noble points. We did not have them before; so, research is one of the many reasons that have been considered to award this cost. That [research] is not the most important; the most important is the many noble points of law that were able to be expounded.
Lawyers will find (in the judgement) a locus classicus (Latin word for passage, best known or most authoritative on a particular subject) when it comes to matters of the separation of powers, constitutionalism, individual rights vis-à-vis rights against the state.

While at the Electoral Commission, it was alleged that you provided insider information challenging the qualification of Sam Rwakoojo to be the electoral body’s secretary. True?
I did not expect you to come up with this question, but I was not involved in providing information, directly or otherwise, about Mr Rwakoojo. It was the work of some NRM volunteers and I don’t even know who appointed them. I came to learn of it that they carried out research and on the basis of the evidence available; apparently Mr Rwakoojo doesn’t have minimum qualifications and is not a fit and proper person to be the secretary of the Electoral Commission.

But I think at that point, Mr Rwakoojo opened war against me basically because he believed that I was connected to Amama Mbabazi.

Two, he erroneously believed that I was part of NRM volunteers who did research [in 2010] and produced a report on (1 million) ghost voters (in the national register).

Because Mr Rwakoojo could not convince the Electoral Commission management to find a cause action to have me dismissed, he went to the commissioners and lied to them that actually he had information that I was one of the people who were involved in writing that report that damaged the EC. They charged me; summarily tried me and handed down a sentence [without listening to my side of the story].

The charge against me was that I was a cadre of the NRM, for which I plead guilty without regret.
Mr Rwakoojo lied that I was a member of Internal Security Organisation.

Aren’t you?
I am not.

You try to portray that you were victimised at EC for being an NRM cadre. Isn’t it that your supervisors were concerned that you were openly and actively political in a partisan way, compromising the principle of impartiality required for your kind job then?
Nevertheless, I executed my work very professionally.

How did you feel when you heard the news that court had awarded you at least Shs11 billion?
I was not excited; this is something I earned lawfully. Good work pays.

SOURCE: ( Daily Monitor, 10th March, 2013 )