Covering areas like Kitgum, Pader, Lamwo and Agago, East Acholi Cooperative Union Ltd is chaired by Ms Aceng Hellen. It has been in existence since 1951 but was devastatingly affected by the 1979 and 1985 wars as its property and assets were looted and destroyed. This affected its performance as a Cooperative Union.
That’s how it found itself on the list of the Cooperatives which the NRM government had or offered to compensate as a way of reviving them and in the process, a total of Shs173bn had to be shared in order to restart these farmer organizations.
The money, as has been established by the Committee of Parliament chaired by Mpaka Mwine has, since 2011, been swindled through a syndicate involving officials at the Trade Ministry, individual Ministers and MPs working through proxy law firms, a good number of which now risk deregistration by Law Council or even having their managing partners and lawyers behind them criminally prosecuted. The Parliamentary report indicates that East Acholi Union originally claimed war-related compensation of Shs6.5bn which, upon verification by the Ministry of Trade whose verification Committee was powerfully chaired by Assistant Commissioner Cooperatives Mr. Leonard Kavundira, was cut down to Shs5.5bn.
The process to have the first installment of Shs1bn paid out commenced in October 2020 with fallen Speaker Jacob Oulanyah offering to help the Cooperative leaders to accelerate the recovery of their money. The 211 pages report indicates that in December 2020, Hellen Aceng and her treasurer Opio Severoni delivered Shs100m to his Muyenga residence to facilitate the process by Jacob Oulanyah (who as of that time must have been desperate for campaign funds). It was a scientific campaign and December was barely a month away from the January 2021 elections during which Oulanyah was fighting to keep his Omoro County MP Seat whereafter he proceeded to seek Speakership. The two had first met Oulanyah to discuss the same in October 2020 in Arua as he campaigned for other NRM candidates.
That as they pursued and chased for their Shs1bn, the State Minister for Cooperatives Fredrick Ngobi Gume demanded that they take up Odonga Otto as a lawyer to help them pursue their payment between the Trade & Finance Ministries in Kampala. That they felt this wasn’t necessary because they had already gone through much of the work.
The report shows that when the Union leaders objected, Otto curiously dragged them to Court where they were cajoled into a consent judgment of some sort whose terms required them to accept him to be their lawyer entitled to a one off payment of Shs300m off the Shs1bn which they were to receive from Trade Ministry.
Hellen Aceng says the hostilities and dragging of the foot they had been experiencing about their payment all eased the moment they accepted to have the ex-Aruu County MP (currently leading the fight against Balaalo in Acholi-land) to be their lawyer and consultant on their overall claim of Shs6.5bn.
The Mpaka Mwine Committee interacted with and grilled Minister Fredrick Ngobi Gume about this pro-Odonga Otto pressure on the Union leaders and he owned up to the same saying Otto approached him as a colleague MP seeking to be helped to cash in on the Cooperatives cash bonanza since this was a Union from the Acholi area where he too hailed from. Ngobi told the MPs there was nothing unusual about a Minister being approached by a fellow MP for assistance. His only defense is that Hellen Aceng and other Union leaders had the option of refusing because he had no power to coerce them if they preferred some other law firm and not Odonga Otto’s. The Minister says Otto deserved the Shs300m deal because he is one of the best lawyers from Acholi-land.
On 16th October 2023, Odonga Otto interfaced with the same Committee and denied coercing the Union into contracting him to offer legal services. He indicated to the Committee in his written submission that he had instructions and the Shs300m he earned resulted from the Consent judgment which was ratified by Court. In its report, the Committee insists that Odonga Otto committed professional misconduct for which they want the Law Council to sanction him at the instigation of the Union leaders who are urged to lodge a formal complaint against the ex-MP’s M/S Odonga Otto & Co Advocates. That the firm’s actions and the circumstances under which it earned the Shs300m breached Section 74 of the Advocates Act Cap 267 for which Otto should be sanctioned by Law Council.
The same report recommends that the IGG and DPP plus CID should further investigate Mr. Leonard Kavundira and other Trade Ministry officials regarding the Shs130m that was extorted from the same leaders of East Acholi Cooperative Union. That the cash was picked by a Trade Ministry official from Acaki Hotel based in Kitgum in late 2020 besides another Shs60m that was shared as gratification among officials from the Ministry’s Finance Department.
The report also speaks about meetings at Peace Restaurant in Kampala near Charm Towers where leaders of other Cooperative Unions were armtwisted and cajoled to disregard their retained law firms and instead take up the services of Counsel Julius Kirya of M/S Kirya & Co Advocates and Mr. Ezra Kabali of Masejere & Co Advocates. That the lawyers, leveraging on Mr. Kavundira’s strong recommendation, were able to make and earn billions in legal fees and consultancy services which Union leaders felt were not even required for their compensation billions to be recovered.
The same report, stretching 211 pages, has no kind words for a number of NRM MPs including Paul Akamba, budget Committee Vice Chairperson Ignatius Wamakuyu Wamudini who influenced the paying out of billions, Maruzi UPC strongman Maxwell Akora and former Kyankwanzi Woman MP Anna Nankabirwa (also Chairperson Wamala Growers Cooperative Union) among others. There is a lot of dirt the report unearths about each of these leaders and they will be lucky to survive criminal prosecution if the laws of Uganda are going to ever be enforced and made to work. (For comments on this story, get back to us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734 & 041 4674611 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).