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Court clears ‘presidential handshake’ beneficiaries

Sekatawa (middle) and Akol right appearing before COSASE. FILE PHOTO

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The High Court Civil Division has rejected findings and recommendations of the Parliamentary committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) that people who benefited from the SH 6 billion presidential oil handshake refund the money.

The committee, which was led by Bugweri legislator Abdu Katuntu, ordered that the officials refund the money and be investigated.

Justice Andrew Basahaija ruled on Friday that the recommendations of the committee were illegal and said the orders of the committee “be removed from public orders and should not be implemented.”

He said he didn’t find anything wrong with the officials who received the money.

The case was taken to court in 2017 by Ali Sekatawa, who received over 200 million shillings on the handshake. He questioned Parliament’s role in questioning the presidential donation to the team that worked on the oil case which they argue earned Uganda millions of dollars.

Sekatawa, who is now the legal officer at the Petroleum Authority of Uganda, was an employee of Uganda Revenue Authority at the time.

“This ruling is a win for people who received the money but also raising more questions among Ugandans on whether public officials paid using taxpayers more should be receive more money as ‘handshake’ for doing their work.”

The money was given to government officials following court victory against oil company, Heritage in London in 2015. Here, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) dismissed a case filed by Heritage, which had challenged a decision by URA to collect a Shs 1.1 trillion capital gains tax. This was after Heritage sold its stake to Tullow Oil.

The court directed Heritage to pay 11.5 billion shillings in costs to Uganda. Armed with this victory, the officials asked President Yoweri Museveni to pay them some money as a thank you, which came to be famously known as the “oil handshake”.

Other people who received the money include former URA commissioner General Allen Kagina, who is now the head of Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA).

The current URA boss Doris Akol, former Kampala Capital City Authority executive director Jennifer Musisi also received the money. Others include former Attorney General late Peter Nyombi and former deputy attorney general Fred Ruhindi.

The ruling, which renders useless the 95-page report by COSASE, prohibits the implementation of the findings and awards costs to the applicant – Ssekatawa.

Among other things, the committee had recommended that the beneficiaries refund the money, that they be held accountable for flouting laws to solicit donation from the president and that a bill be introduced to review presidential donations.

It had also recommended that the Inspector General of Government (IGG) investigate with the view of finding culpability and possible offenses.

Justice Basahija adds that none of the recommendations should be implemented.



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