Last week, Inspector General of Government Irene Mulyagonja was attacked by a prominent law firm, Kampala Associated Aocates (KAA), for her recommendation that they should not be paid about Shs 4.5bn.
The money was in legal fees for having defended President Museveni when he was sued by Dr Jesse Mashate in London.
The IGG found the fees excessive, given that Edwin Coe LLP, a UK firm which took the lead in defending the case, asked for seven times less than what KAA had charged. But the managing partner of KAA, Sam Mayanja, in a media statement issued last week, characterised the recommendation as clothed with “malicious intentions!”
I would like to think that the IGG is being unfairly judged. First, under Article 225 (e) of the Constitution, the IGG is enjoined to investigate any act, omission, aice, decision or recommendation by a public officer or any other authority, taken, made or given or done in exercise of administrative functions.
The public officer in this particular case whose decisions are being investigated is the attorney general. Two, the investigation was never intended to target KAA in particular but, rather, the attorney general’s decision to retain KAA.
In August 2012, the IGG received a complaint alleging that some officials in the Justice and Constitutional Affairs ministry were trying to pay legal fees of pound660,800 (Shs 2.9bn) to KAA and pound209,396.32 (Shs 921m) to other groups of lawyers – all totalling to pound870,196.32 (Shs 3.9bn).
Ostensibly, this money was due to these law firms for representing the Government of Uganda in the case of Jesse Mashate v General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, in the United Kingdom. The history of this suit is long and winding.
But in 1986, the National Resistance Army (NRAM) government, headed by President Museveni, banned The Weekly Digest,which Mashate owned and ran. Mashate claimed that the ban led to loss of business, and the loss amounted to $10m.
He later claimed that he had entered into an understanding with president Museveni to pay him, but the latter did not make good on that promise. Mashate, therefore, sued in the UK. Several questions, therefore, pertaining to this case and transaction between Attorney General and KAA remain unanswered: who instructed KAA to defend the President?
Was there need to obtain the legal services of KAA, given that the attorney general’s chambers have senior aocates who could have done this work? Given that KAA played a supportive role to Edwin Coe LLP, and the work did not need unique competency, were the legal fees of Shs 4.5bn commensurate with the tasks performed?
Did KAA really save the government of Uganda property from attachment in London or this work was done by a different law firm contracted by Uganda Property Holdings Limited (UPHL)?
Edwin Coe LLP did not request for the support from KAA. In the IGG’s report, Attorney General Peter Nyombi is not able to tell whether the president expressly instructed KAA to represent him. Even the KAA’s Mayanja statement did not address that question. Instead, Mayanja’s statement said:
“Our concern was that no one had defended the presidentgovernment against a claim that had no merit, and over a quarter of a trillion shillings was being recovered. According to the IGG, it would have been professional conduct for us to come across this information and keep quiet.
“We should have silently cheered while the property was being sold on a bogus claim. Because of the detailed information and documents we had obtained on the case while doing other work in London, we were asked.”
Does this mean, therefore, that KAA became patriotic, decided to instruct itself to defend the property from attachment and the president from the frivolous claims? It is not accurate that the president was not defended. Edwin Coe LLP had instructions from the attorney general’s chambers to carry out this task, and it had been on the case for long time.
Besides, there was local support since senior lawyers from the attorney general’s chambers often flew to UK to work with Edwin Coe LLP for the same case. UPHL does the work of managing assets of Uganda in the UK. When UPHL learnt of the attachments of the property, it instructed UK CKFT Solicitors, to rescue the assets, and this was done successfully. And for this service, UPHL paid pound70,259 (Shs 209m) as legal fees to CKFT. The question then is: which property did KAA rescue from attachment?
Mr Mayanja could not explain in his statement why it was proper and rational for a support firm to be paid seven times more than the lead firm. Furthermore, Mr Mayanja seemed to suggest, in the statement, that since the IGG was one of the most highly-paid public officer, she had no moral authority to question the private lawyers’ fees.
But to be fair to her, Ms Irene Mulyagonja never decided her wages. If the IGG has the power and authority to investigate complaints about public officers’ decision, be it those involving private actors, such as KAA, I think it is not fair to categorise her work as malicious and unreasonable. KAA just has to prove its case that it had good intentions to get involved in the case, its justification for the ‘excessive’ fees, and not attack the IGG.
The author is the finance director of The Observer Media Limited.
Source : The Observer