27 February 2013

Uganda: Shs 13 Billion Costs Would Be Crazy


Events of the last couple of years have laid bare the wrong notion that Uganda is a poor country.

On the contrary, Uganda is a rich country. It is only poor at managing its immense wealth. Here is why. A poor country wouldn't afford to lose hundreds of billions in Chogm-related expenditure or in irregular compensation of a well-connected businessman to the tune of Shs 142bn. A poor country wouldn't afford to lose billions to ghost pensioners, or large sums meant for the rehabilitation of northern Uganda, or national IDs that can't be traced.

And a poor country can't afford to pay Shs 13bn to a lawyer for winning a public interest case that took less than a few days to dispose of. The list is long, but let's stay with the last case for a moment. The Registrar of the Constitutional court, Elias Kisawuzi, has awarded Shs 13bn to one Severino Twinobusingye for winning the case in which he challenged Parliament's power to force the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, and two ministers, to resign over bribery allegations.

To that end, well and good. That Twinobusingye contributed to the development of constitutionalism in Uganda through that legal action is clear. But that he should get Shs 13bn for his efforts is completely out of order. As many people, including lawyers, have pointed out, this is not only too much money, it is also out of touch with the economic reality in the country.

How can a country that can't pay its judges a decent salary find Shs 13bn to lavish on a self-appointed public interest litigant?

In fact, if Twinobusingye's court case must prove to be this costly for the taxpayer, then Ugandans could well say they didn't send him to represent their interests. So, why must they suffer such a loss?

If Twinobusingye must be rewarded for his efforts, let the government consider awarding him a medal like it has done with many Ugandans it feels have done exemplary things for the country. Otherwise, such an award has the effect of entrenching the perception that litigation is for the wealthy. It also plays into the hands of people who are always seeking clever ways of extracting large sums of money from the state.

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