Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | High Court has quashed audit reports by the Auditor General implicating Ruth Achimo Etibot, the interdicted Soroti University secretary over procurement irregularities and abuse of office. The decision by Justice Wilson Masalu Musene arises from an application in which Achimo asked the court to quash special audit reports by the Auditor General on two financial statements for Soroti University on grounds that they were of no legal effect or consequence.
The December 18, 2018 reports, are for the financial year which ended June 30th, 2018 and another for forensic investigations into the alleged diversion of funds from Capital Development Fund by the university officials dated March 2020. Achimo asked High court to declare the reports illegal on grounds that the reports which implicated her and the former University bursar, Edward Ebeele for diverting Shillings 1.6 billion were illegal because the process leading to it was unlawful.
She argued that the process was initiated by the request of Francis Xavier Lubanga, the chairperson University Council who had no legal mandate to initiate or request for the same. Court further heard that Lubanga initiated this out of malice and bad faith with the sole intention of initiating malicious and selective prosecution against Achimo. Following the said report, Achimo was arraigned before the Anti-Corruption Court and charged with diversion of funds and abuse of office before being granted bail.
During the hearing, the Auditor General through an affidavit of Senior Auditor, General Bashir Lubega opposed the application saying that the forensic investigations and reports were done in line with the National Audit Act of 2008 and therefore are in line with the required procedure. He asked court to dismiss the application with costs. In his March 24, 2021 judgment, which URN has seen, Justice Musene said that the Auditor General acted illegally, irrationally and in total violation of Achimo’s right to a fair hearing.
According to the Judge, the Auditor General executed instructions from an unauthorized person, indulged in matters outside the scope of the requested audit and made audit reports for the benefit of third parties instead of parliament as required under the law. Furthermore, by arriving at the findings that the procurement of the services of M/s Okurut & Co. Advocates were irregularly done without following the procurement laws, the respondent (Auditor-General) usurped the powers or mandate of PPDA authority, PPDA Tribunal, Attorney General and Courts of Judicature,” reads the ruling in part.
The Judge also questioned why Achimo was being charged in the Anti-Corruption court on various charges of abuse of office by signing service level agreements between the University and M/s Okurut & Co. Advocates and yet payments to the said law firm in respect of the said agreement were effected after ratification of the same by the University Council and other officials.
Justice Musene further ruled that none of the three contentious reports was ever served upon parliament for any consideration, which he says was procedurally improper. According to Musene, the Auditor-General acted as a complainant, investigator, prosecutor and a Judge in the same matter and in total violation of the rules of natural justice in Achimo’s investigations.
“The question is that why is the report selective on Achimo Ruth Etibot for prosecution and removal from office? What about the others who participated? These are fundamental issues to which the applicant is entitled to remedy, and cannot be swept under the carpet”, the ruling reads.
The Court agreed with Achimo’s submissions that Lubanga, who originated the request had a long bad working relationship with her to the extent that he had even before initiated the said Special Investigative Audit process again and illegally interdicted her through the office of IGG before the same was quashed by court.
Consequently, Justice Musene has issued a permanent injunction restraining the Auditor General, his agents and servants and other authorities and officials from implementing, relying on the said illegal findings of the Auditor General for the benefit of third parties other than Parliament.
He has also awarded Achimo costs of the suit. In the recent appointment of the accounting officers for different institutions, Abdallah Oyare Shaban was appointed Soroti University accounting officer. Juma Hassan Nyene, the Soroti University spokesman says that they have not yet received any formal communication to the new developments regarding Achimo’s cases.