By Our Reporters
Deeply Christian city lawyer John Matovu (who famously represented Col Kizza Besigye in the early 2000s’ treason case) is close to bagging billions of shillings. This comes after the prolonged litigation battle he has been spearheading on behalf of more than 1,000 ex-ISO operatives came to an end recently. After court awarded them Shs80bn (inclusive of Shs39bn as principal & Shs41bn as interest), the matter was reduced to talks between the ISO ex-staff and a government inter-ministerial bureaucracy coordinated by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda. It’s during these talks (that had the IGG Irene Mulyagonja, Finance Ministry, the AG William Byaruhanga, ISO, President’s Office representatives etc) that it was agreed that government would take care of the legal fees of the five law firms/legal teams that claim to have offered legal services and representation to the ex-ISO men whose case was first filed in 2004.
BUT HOW DID WE GET HERE:
In 1995, the GoU complied with the donor requirement to implement the Reduction in Forces (RIF) program that resulted into thousands being retrenched from the armed forces. The mistake was government retrenched them without paying any terminal benefits to them. That is how they resorted to litigation with John Matovu being the main man doing all the legal work. They didn’t have much money (many of them were destitute having been off employment for 10 years counting from 1995 to 2004) and you had to have a golden heart similar to John Matovu’s to legally represent such poverty-stricken men with very little hope for the future. Renowned for deeply being very spiritual, Matovu embarked on the job with enthusiasm and in the end got the court to direct government to pay Shs39bn on grounds it was injustice not paying their terminal benefits. That was 2005 but still more hurdles were lying ahead. The Justice Ministry as usual said “we are aware of the court directive but we shall pay when money becomes available.” This necessitated more legal help and strengthening for the men to remain focused on the ball. As the legal process characteristically took forever to bear fruit, the men took political approaches and staged demonstrations calculated at politically humiliating Museveni who was under pressure from new challenger Amama Mbabazi. This was around 2014 and Museveni had earlier faced renegade Gen David Sejusa who had been perceived as one with a lot of following amongst the disgruntled ex-NRA veterans. At some point, the men stormed Rwakitura on the Christmas day and caused huge political humiliation to the President as some of them undressed outside his home. Museveni eventually met and apologized to them before ordering creation of an inter-ministerial committee which resolved to fast track their pay regardless of the first come-first serve arrangements the Justice Ministry technocrats kept referring to. PSST Keith Muhakanizi agreed to pay them Shs35bn as principal and asked them to first forget about the Shs41bn that had accumulated in interest. Having agreed to pay the Shs39bn in installments, Muhakanizi in 2014/15 released an initial Shs10bn which the claimants’ leaders operating under UVETSO went about distributing. As the distribution progressed, some few members (like Joseph Wawomora, Mathew Yasigalira etc) raised a red flag and petitioned IGG who halted the payments on grounds of misappropriation. Consequently, Muhakanizi couldn’t pay more because the IGG ordered a halt. Matovu was unfazed. He led the men back to Court to challenge the IGG’s powers to meddle into activities of a private association. In the end, court prompted parties to return to talks which recently resulted into government directing Muhakanizi to quickly pay the remaining Shs29bn. Already Muhakanizi has released Shs14.5bn (under the October-December quarter) and promises the remaining 50% balance in the subsequent quarter (January-March 2019). This is strictly to be eaten by the claimants without any lawyers being permitted to encroach on them.
MATOVU NEARS CASH;
At the Rugunda talks, stakeholders have agreed that government pays the lawyers separately provided one will have a credible claim for legal fees. We have seen two government letters (Rugunda’s dated 22nd Sept and AG William Byaruhanga’s dated 23rd August) all of them undertaking to pay the lawyers upon verification of the authenticity of their claim to have given the group any legal services. Whereas there are 5 law firms seeking payment for some form of legal services, Matovu has the most secure claim. This is so because the claimants unanimously say that he has always been with them from day one and has never abandoned them or showed any hesitation to remain available to them. The PM and AG have demanded that every claim the lawyers are to make must be well backed up with valid and verifiable instructions to represent the group. This excludes law firms that continued representing the claimants even after it had been agreed at the Rugunda talks to call off all the litigation for an amicable settlement. Besides John Matovu’s, the other law firm expecting to cash in include that of flamboyant city lawyer Fred Muwema (whose Roberts Kagoro claims to have done work), that of Kisoro MP Sam Bitangaro and the law firm for John Mary Mugisha who (like John Matovu) is a former Uganda Law Society President. For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755.