By John V Sserwaniko
Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana, who the media crew members looked forward to record choke on words before Justice Bamugemereire’s land inquiry, cleverly managed to postpone what is expected to be a plasma-sweating session by at least some 2 more weeks. Identified by the Commission as the man at the center of curious multi-billion payments to veteran city tycoon Dr. Mohammed Kasasa for the Mutungo 640 acre land that was never delivered to government, Rukutana was widely expected to weep from the witness stand. He cleverly survived but given Justice Bamugemereire’s approach of taking no prisoners, that relief can only be temporary because Rukutana’s day of reckoning will surely come. And in any case two weeks isn’t very far, which is the reason the Commission granted his request to postpone for another 14 days so that he returns adequately prepared on Wednesday 20th February.
On arrival, Rukutana was taken through the oath-taking rituals implying he would be truthful and bound by whatever he said during the evidence-giving session. Being the shrewd barrister he is, Rukutana sought to make some clarificational statements before lead counsel Ebert Byenkya would ask him any questions. He ended up saying many things (perhaps to consume up time and exhaust the Commission) prompting Byenkya to inquire whether he was already giving evidence to the Commission. His preliminary points were many including demanding to know the capacity in which he had been summoned. He said it had to be either as a witness, criminal suspect or someone implicated in some wrongdoing. Sounding very authoritative, Rukutana said he was intrigued with the indication in the summons that he had to come with a lawyer of his choice at his own cost as a person. “How can that be yet the matters you summoned me to answer for arose from my duties as a government official?” Rukutana wondered to deafening silence in the room. He said he has a right to legal representation which is a key component of fair hearing under Article 28 of the Constitution and Section 12 of the Commission of Inquiries Act. Speaking later on, Bamugemereire admonished him for being a whole Attorney General who can so casually misapply provisions of Article 28 which basically applies to suspects under criminal trial.
Rukutana, who came under heavy escort manned by sharp shooters, indifferently told the Commission there wasn’t much he could do for them because the manner summons were accessed to him didn’t accord him sufficient time to adequately prepare his submission. “I only got the summons at mid night last night at Millennium Hotel [Zana] and I had just returned from NRM caucus having attended a cabinet meeting earlier in the day,” he said before defiantly protesting why some Commission officials had alluded to him snubbing earlier summons. “That allusion is totally unfair and untrue because I had been away on official duty in Arusha.” Saying the AG was being dishonest and just seeking “excuses” to escape tough questioning, Bamugemereire in return accused the AG of trivializing a very important inquiry which Byenkya emphasized was established by the President to do very serious work. To Rukutana’s total embarrassment, Bamugemereire revealed that the summons were served on time through his office PA “who acknowledged receipt and even advised on Tuesday 5th February being the most appropriate day having checked through your diary.” Still determined to circumvent and diminish responsibility for the two letters he authored directing unconditional payment to Dr. Kasasa for his Mutungo land (which the Commission insists was even never delivered to gov’t), Rukutana conveniently attributed everything to Justice Ministry official Henry Oluka who died and was buried sometime back. Upon lecturing the Commission on how things are procedurally done at the Justice Ministry, Rukutana said Oluka was the “case officer” who did much of the work inputting into processes that preceded his own letter sanctioning Kasasa’s payment. “Oluka reported to the Director Civil Litigation who would report to Solicitor General and my legal opinion only came in at the tail end,” he said. “Because of that I’m not prepared to go into the substance of the matter delving into the specifics because I’m not in position to do so now without my file.”
HOW MUCH TIME?
Byenkya asked him then how much time would be appropriate for him to adequately prepare. “My Lord it would depend on which areas you want answers from me,” the AG answered prompting Bamugemereire to rebuke him saying by the way most of the relevant documents that can be referred to for purposes of enabling him answer any questions relating to the more than Shs10bn his office has so far cleared for Kasasa (for land he had never delivered to GoU) are in possession of the Justice Ministry. She nevertheless directed copies of every document the Commission has to be made and given to Rukutana who she shocked by saying “the copies are ready for you to go with them now: we don’t actually need a whole day or even 2 hours.”
Rukutana also explained downplaying his role as D/AG “because everything is prepared for me and that legal opinion is drafted and brought for my signature.” He added “Of course they write for you a brief for perusal to get the justification for that legal opinion and that is what happened in this case.” When the Commissioners asked him specifically about the two legal opinions he authored forcefully directing immediate payment for Kasasa, Rukutana said: “Unfortunately I can’t readily answer because I sign over 200 such letters in a month. So I can’t remember that particular one off hand.” At some point he inquired why he was here and why specifically was he being required to answer about Mutungo which Commissioner Rose Nakayi implied was being used to exorbitantly pay Dr. Kasasa as high as over Shs40bn under the guise of accumulated interest accruing from GoU delay in promptly paying him his contract sum that originally stood at Shs2.4bn before curiously growing the over Shs10bn-inclusive of the Shs8bn which officials are stuck with after Bamugemereire intervened by publicly questioning Kasasa about the same. In the last week session, Kasasa nervously told the Commission he wasn’t aware that there was another Shs8bn awaiting him that soon. He declined discussing more saying the brokers who had previously fleeced him and ensured he only got the Shs2.4bn “only on paper” would bump him off. He said these are very powerful actors against whom even government has no capacity to protect him. He demanded for assurances he would be safe after disclosing much more but the Commission too couldn’t assure him of anything.
In a bid to satisfy Rukutana’s curiosity as to why he was being summoned to answer for such things, the lead counsel referred to the 2nd and 5th terms of reference as given to the Commission by the President. One enjoins them to inquire into the effectiveness of Uganda Land Commission in management of land matters. The other refers to defects in the GoU current legal and policy framework guiding compulsory and voluntary land acquisition. Byenkya then told Rukutana the Commission wants his views on whether the ULC acted properly in the way government billions were squandered paying Kasasa for land government has never got up to this day. As he protested demanding that Byenkya sits down and compiles all the questions and send them to him in writing for his written responses, Rukutana was also told that the Commission intends to ask him why he and others ignored the red flag raised by Auditor General John Muwanga regarding the glaring impropriety in the Mutungo transaction. And whether he thinks it was right for the ULC to often act and make decisions regarding Kasasa’s payment without adequately consulting the Solicitor General and obtaining his legal opinion. He was also told about the defective valuation reports that were relied upon to determine how much Kasasa had to be paid for land on which caveats had already been placed by Buganda royal family members led by Prince David Wassajja. It was disclosed to Rukutana that it was improper for him to direct payment to Kasasa well knowing the land for which the taxpayers’ billions were being paid was subject to caveats and a well-known court dispute to which the Attorney General is a party being Kasasa’s co-defendant. The plaintiff is Wassajja and his two sisters. Ironically, Rukutana sounded unaware of this saying it must have happened during the era of his predecessors in the AG chambers. Bamugemereire insisted he wasn’t being honest because this Wassajja matter was prominent enough for any diligent AG to be aware of. In any case she wondered why any diligent AG can author a legal opinion without adequately acquainting himself about the circumstances surrounding the land in question. Byenkya notified Rukutana he will also have to answer why GoU was committed to signing such a very strange sale agreement entitling Kasasa to claiming interest in case of delay in payment on terms that are purely commercial. He was entitled to over 20% interest for as long as there was any delay in full payment by GoU. The Commissioners said this was alien to cases of land buying by government or even compulsory acquisition as the Mutungo deal is sometimes portrayed. Nakayi insisted this was very glaring oversight for the AG will have to answer. “That is why we are entitled to ask questions and inquire into the whole matter,” Byenkya assured Rukutana making it clear his wish to have written questions sent to him and responded to in advance wouldn’t be accepted. “It’s really difficult because even me I’m never aware of the next question I’m to ask.” Bamugemereire weighed in saying granting such a wish would complicate the Commission’s work because other witnesses will subsequently demand same treatment which wouldn’t augur well with the Commission’s approach of working in total openness to ensure maximum transparency. Bamugemereire assured Rukutana maximum transparency and conducting business in the open was a milestone the Commission had established and wouldn’t be departed from. She said in all they do public confidence was very paramount which explains increased public belief in their work. Its indeed true majority disputants now prefer the Commission to the conventional judicial court system which they find too legalistic, corrupt, ritualistic, intimidating and inefficient. It was repeatedly put to Rukutana he will have to answer on 20th why he was very categorical in his opinion that Kasasa was a bonafide purchaser of value without notice, meaning the quality of his title wasn’t affected by any defects including the fraud Wassajja and Kagimu Kiwanuka have alleged so far.
The chairperson went after Rukutana in many ways and showed her utter disgust for the unseriousness with which he approached his summons. Besides rebuking him for misapplying Article 28 of the Constitution, Bamugemereire said it would be strange for a whole AG not to know the difference between appearing at the Commission and High Court for criminal trial. She also said the man doesn’t need the much time he was asking for because he has more enough lawyers at his disposal. He had asked for 30 days to prepare and return but Bamugemereire said that was too much and unnecessary. She also schooled him about why witnesses come with lawyers mostly kept on watching brief wondering why a whole AG could have any absence of clarity on that. “I honestly don’t need to explain watching brief to a whole Deputy Attorney General,” she contemptuously said in a bid to reciprocate the indifference and pride with which wealthy Rukutana was speaking. “All I can assure you is that we shall need your full cooperation as the author of the legal opinion on which Dr. Kasasa’s payment was based.” Bamugemereire also furiously addressed Rukutana on the “very strange” legal opinions he gave effectively overturning decisions of court staying transactions on Mutungo land. “How do you write saying go ahead and pay? A whole Attorney General?” she said putting Rukutana on notice that his day of reckoning was soon coming. Despising Rukutana for deploying “gymnastics” to belittle the Commission, Bamugemereire contemptuously said “I now understand why cases can take as long as 15 years in Court like has been with Mutungo.” She said she was reluctant to imagine how worse ordinary lawyers can act if a whole AG can be so unprepared to proceed on a matter that was brought to his attention much earlier on. As members dispersed after Bamugemereire reluctantly granting AG’s request for 20th Feb, the chairperson jokingly said “you now have enough home work” before reminding Rukutana how he was her lecturer at LDC where he used give them a lot of work to do under Individual Assessment (IA). Rukutana rode on this to crack jokes and said: “Ooh my Lord I can see it’s a small world this one. I can see its now pay back time but its okay. It happens.” All Commissioners were present except Mary Oduka Ochan whose killer questions could leave Rukutana more bruised come Wednesday 20th February when he will be back to finally pay for his sins. For feedback, reach us on firstname.lastname@example.org