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SHS6BILLION GOLDEN HANDSHAKE CASE: COURT RULES IN FAVOUR OF EX-URA LAWYER SSEKATAWA

By Samuel Kamugisha

The Civil Division of the High Court in Kampala has ordered Parliament to refrain from implementing recommendations of the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) regarding the controversial golden handshake.

While at his Rwakitura country home in May 2015, President Yoweri Museveni directed Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Commissioner General Doris Akol to suggest a “reward” for officials who had played a critical role in a capital gains tax arbitration case involving oil giants Tullow Oil and Heritage in a London court.

According to Akol, it was former Attorney General Fred Ruhindi who had initiated the golden handshake before Museveni gave it a nod.

Akol would later inform Museveni that some 42 officials, largely from URA, Justice and Energy ministries, deserved yellow envelopes carrying a total of Shs6bn.

The money was later given to the beneficiaries who included: Akol (Shs242m), former Attorney General Fred Ruhindi (Shs226m), former Kampala Capital City Authority Executive (KCCA) Director Jennifer Musisi (Shs120m) and Secretary to Treasury Keith Muhakanizi (Shs106m).

Other beneficiaries included Akol’s predecessor Allen Kagina and then URA lawyer Ali Ssekatawa.

But the news of what would later be termed the “golden handshake” would raise eyebrows, prompting Parliament to pick interest in the matter.

After conducting highly publicized investigations into the handshake in 2017, including meeting President Museveni at State House Entebbe, the Abdu Katuntu-led committee presented a 90-page report, recommending that the government officials refund the cash.

But Ssekatawa, currently the Director for Legal and Corporate Affairs at the Petroleum Authority of Uganda, rushed to court seeking an order to block Cosase’s recommendations from being implemented.

On Friday, Justice Andrew K Bashaija ruled that Ssekatawa’s “application largely succeeds” and issued four orders quashing recommendations ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘d’ as contained in report.

In their first recommendation (a), The Katuntu Committee had ruled “that all funds paid out from URA account to the beneficiaries of the ‘handshake’ should be refunded.”

In the second (b), Cosase suggested “that all officials who flouted the law should be held accountable, and this vein, the IGG should institute investigations with a view to establish the culpability and possible offences.”

In the fourth (d), committee members recommended that a Shs6bn supplementary budget be rejected by Parliament “because the virement created a liability” flouting section 22 of the Uganda Public Finance Management Act 2015 on virements – process involving transfer of money across public accounts or budget votes.

But Bashaija issued directives sending these recommendations to the dustbin of Parliament’s history. Bashaija’s orders include the “quashing of findings and recommendations a, b and d” as contained “in the impugned COSASE report.”

The judge also wants findings in paragraphs 1,2,3 and 4 as well as the recommendations in a, b and d as well as Parliamentary resolutions based thereon to be “expunged from public records of the Republic of Uganda.”

Court also awarded Ssekatawa the costs of the application.

 

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