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Mabirizi awarded Sh5m in access to information case

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Chief Magistrates Court in Mengo has ordered the government to compensate lawyer Male Mabirizi with five million Shillings for violating his right to access information.

Mabirizi wrote to the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Works and Transport on July 23, 2021, seeking access to all procurement correspondences, decisions and Memorandum of Understanding with Joint Stock Company Global Security to install tracking devices in all public and private vehicles and motorcycles in Uganda.

The deal was first announced on June 29, 2021, by the Minister in charge of Security Major General Jim Muhwezi who was seeking cabinet approval to have all vehicles and motorcycles fitted with security tracking devices in line with a Presidential directive to combat rising urban criminality.

This 10-year project had been tendered to a Russian company; Global Systems LLC which would take 70 per cent of the money from penalties in the first two years. In the fourth year, the two parties will share the revenue equally and the government would then take 70 per cent from the sixth year onwards.

Mabirizi who suspected that the agreement was not done in a transparent manner observed at the time that It was glaringly clear that the entire arrangement was illegal since it was not backed by any act of Parliament, and that all procurements were conducted in secrecy. He observed a need to examine the entire process and the contract to see who is culpable to be criminally prosecuted under the Anti-Corruption Act.

But even after writing, Mabirizi did not get the said documents within 21 days as required under the Access to Information Act of 2005 as well as Article 41 of the Constitution. On this basis, he asked the court to declare that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Works and Transport illegally or wrongly refused and ignored his request.

He also asked Court to order the Permanent Secretary to avail him with the said documents and to issue an order of injunction restraining the Permanent Secretary from concealing information about the procurement, correspondences and decisions.

But the government said that they responded to the request on September 6, 2021, albeit long after the required 21 days. At the time, according to the government, Mabirizi was not present at the address he had given them to effect the service. The government also argued that the application lacked merit and was misconceived since the information he asked for was not in the possession of the Permanent  Secretary.

Relying on a case filed by Katiba Institute against the Presidents Delivery Unit of Kenya, Mengo Chief Magistrate Patrick Talisuna Ngereza held that failure to make a response within 21 days makes the public body liable. The court also ruled that the Permanent Secretary was required to give a full account of all the steps taken to ensure that the required information is obtained.

“I would thus grant the applicant general damages for the inconvenience of five million Shillings. On costs, the general rule is that costs follow the event and a successful party should not be deprived of costs except for a good cause,” reads the Judgement.

Mabirizi has welcomed the court decision and said he is to embark on the process to claim his compensation.



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