Court Gives Former Diplomat Shs 6.3 Billion

To former diplomat Johnson Akol Omunyokol, living without a job for 17 years has been “hell”, but he has soldiered on. Now though, a ‘salvation’ package is on the way, after the Supreme court ruled that Omunyokol was unlawfully fired in 1998.

In a 4-1 majority ruling on April 17, court awarded Omunyokol Shs 6.3bn in salary arrears and damages because of the undiplomatic manner of his sacking. And Justice Esther Kisaakye added that Omunyokol should get his job back.

On September 20, 1988, Omunyokol was recruited into the public service as a foreign service officer grade 6, before being posted to Uganda’s embassy in Beijing, China on July 3, 1993.

However, in January 1997 Omunyokol was accused by the then permanent secretary ministry of foreign affairs of sexually harassing a female employee at Traders hotel in Beijing.

Nabeta also alleged that on August 8,1995, Omunyokol insulted the head of Lufthansa Airlines in China using obscene words such as “Hitler”, “Nazi”, “Shit” , “F*** your mother ” .

Subsequently, in March 1997, Omunyokol was recalled to Uganda by the ministry of Foreign Affairs though he didn’t return immediately because the ministry did not have funds to cover the cost of shipping his personal belongings. According to court records, Omunyokol remained in Beijing until October 21, 1997, when he was detained four days by the security agencies.

On October 24, 1997, he was repatriated to Uganda and immediately sent on leave. On March 4, 1998, Omunyokol was interdicted by Nabeta. Then on June 6, 1998, he was dismissed by the public service commission without following procedure as per the public service Act.

In 1999, through his lawyer Patrick Furah, Omunyokol dragged the Attorney General to the High court seeking, among other things, nullification of his dismissal from office. In 2010, Justice Remmy Kasule, who has since been promoted to the Court of Appeal, ruled in favour of Omunyokol when he held that his dismissal was unlawful.

Kasule, however, declined to order Omunyokol’s reinstatement and instead awarded him damages of Shs 180m. Dissatisfied, he ran to the Court of Appeal which dismissed his appeal with costs in 2012.

Omunyokol then appealed to the Supreme court. During the final submissions in 2014, Furah recounted how Omunyokol was arrested at his residence by the Chinese police, handcuffed, and beaten in the presence of Major General Fred Okecho, the then Ugandan ambassador to China.

In reply, the commissioner for civil litigation, Robinah Rwakojo, maintained that the Court of Appeal had carefully re-evaluated evidence of the alleged assault and torture and came to the conclusion that the government of Uganda was not liable for the violations that were meted on Omunyokol in China.

However, the Supreme court disagreed. In his lead judgment, Justice Benjamin Odoki agreed with Furah that the Court of Appeal erred in applying the employment Act 2006 to the case.

“I agree with the appellant [Omunyokol] that his employment was subject to the constitution, statutes and regulations there under. He could not be dismissed unlawfully,” Odoki ruled.

Though Odoki ruled that Omunyokol’s dismissal was illegal, he refused to reinstate him back to his job, saying too much time elapsed since he was fired.

However, justice Odoki awarded Omunyokol Shs 300m in arrears he would have earned in the 26 years of service. The Shs 300m included 25 per cent increase in Omunyokol’s arrears from 1998 to 2024 the year he would have retired. The majority justices ordered that the ward of Shs 300m should attract interest of 20 per cent per annum from the date of dismissal until full payment.

They also awarded Omuyokol Shs 150m in general damages for loss of employment while he was still young, and embarrassment it caused him. A rough calculation puts Omunyokol’s ward at nearly Shs 6.3bn. Taxpayers will also have to pay Omunyokol’s legal costs for the three courts, with the final bill expected to be close to Shs 10bn

DISSENTING

Justice Kisaakye, in her minority judgment, took issue of the decision by the majority justices to reject Omunyokol’s reinstatement.

“As I have observed earlier in this judgment, the employment of the appellant has never been terminated in law. Hence, after the judgment of this court, the appellant would have been able to resume his duties with the respondent [Attorney General] since his employment would be continuing,” Kisaakye ruled.

Source : The Observer

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