Judge slaps Shs 37bn bill on lawyers
Written by Edris Kiggundu March 31, 2013
Uganda Law Society declares war on him
Justice Anup Singh Choudry has ordered two prominent lawyers to pay Shs 37 billion for allegedly being ‘dishonest’ in a case in which an investor evicted 410 tenants from a 11.6 square mile piece of land in Mubende to pave way for a coffee plantation and factory.
The ruling has shocked the legal fraternity and renewed the war between Justice Choudry and the Uganda Law Society, which has long called for him to be fired.
The judge said lawyers James Nangwala and Alex Rezida should pay the colossal figure as damages to the tenants for misadvising a government entity (Uganda Investment Authority) to purchase land that had encumbrances.
The duo is supposed to pay the money within 30 days from the date of the ruling and cannot appeal against the ruling unless they first deposit the full sum in court. The judge said this should serve as a lesson that ‘government cannot be an open cheque book for the negligence, fraud, dishonesty and theft of their lawyers.’
Nangwala and Rezida represented UIA, which identified the land for the investors, Neumann Kaffee Gruppe (NKG) of Hamburg, Germany, in August 2001. Choudry, in the March 28 ruling, 2013, said Nangwala and Rezida were grossly, recklessly and deliberately negligent in failing to complete the purchase of the land, contrary to the conditions in the sale agreement.
“They should have been more diligent because the overall quantum of the transaction including the compensation that was payable under the contract was in the region of billions of shillings; and the issue of compensation of tenants in the contract could not have been overlooked. They would have known full well the negligent implications of not concluding the terms of the sale agreement,” he said.
The figure, Choudry said, included Shs 3.8bn as special damages to the plaintiffs, Shs 1.1bn as disturbance allowance, Shs 2bn as general damages for the eviction of the plaintiffs, Shs 2bn as exemplary damages for oppressive and violent behaviour suffered by the tenants and Shs 1bn as damages in pain and suffering for the tenants.
This is in addition to Shs 27bn accrued as interest on all the above damages 10 years since the case was lodged in court.
If the lawyers cannot pay, Choudry said, the tenants may apply to the Law Society or Law Council to be paid from the compensation fund where a member of the public has suffered from the dishonesty of the lawyers.
But Nangwala, laughing, described the ruling as a set of ‘superfluous statements which have no meaning in law.’
He said they would not pay the money because the two parties to the suit were the tenants and government.
“He fabricated facts of his own,” Nangwala told The Observer on Saturday. “I can tell that it is a vindictive judgment meant to pay back those who stand by the decision of ULS to take him to court.”
ULS has petitioned the Judicial Service Commission, demanding that Justice Choudry be removed from the bench, citing improper conduct while he was practising law in the United Kingdom. The society also petitioned the Constitutional court over the matter, which is now before President Museveni. This has drawn a wedge between the judge and ULS, with some members vowing to boycott his court.
According to an email to members written by the newly elected ULS president, Ruth Sebatindira, and seen by The Observer, Choudry has crossed the ‘rubicon.’
“An attack has been made on the Uganda Law Society which was not even a party to this suit in circumstances that suggest that the judge may be taking his wrath out on members of the bar who abide by the ULS position not to appear before him,” Sebatindira wrote a day after the ruling.
In April 2012, ULS requested President Museveni to set up a special tribunal to investigate allegations of improper conduct on the part of Choudry. According to documents filed in court in 2008 by ULS, Choudry was on October 31, 2000 convicted of making an excessive bill of costs amounting to £1 million (Shs 4 billion) in a libel case he was handling on behalf of a Sikh leader against the Sunday Times, a UK newspaper.
ULS says that Choudry was subsequently struck off the register of lawyers and solicitors from the United Kingdom and his law firm, Singh and Choudry, was closed down. Choudry denies the allegations which he has challenged in court. Bruce Kyerere, a former ULS president, described Choudry’s ruling as “the epitome of lunacy” and further evidence that he should not be a judge.
He said it was unconstitutional for the judge to demand that lawyers first deposit the entire amount in court before they can lodge an appeal.
“His continued presence on the bench is a disgrace to the judiciary,” Kyerere said.
The controversial case was first lodged in 2002 by a group of tenants. However, judges it was allocated to kept rescheduling it. In 2009, with the support of a German NGO, FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), the tenants revived the case.
The tenants argued that NKG acquired the 11.6 square miles of contested land from UIA on a 99-year lease illegally. The land covered the villages of Keitemba, Luwunga, Kijunga and Kiryamakobe. They said that they were forcefully evicted from the land by soldiers from a nearby army barracks with the assistance of Mubende’s then Resident District Commissioner, Perez Katamba. In the process, they lost their property, livelihood, shelter and education.
They claimed that the compensation given was insufficient and not comparable to what they had lost. Choudry took over the case in 2009 and in the early stages Nangwala and Rezida asked him to disqualify himself because ULS had questioned his integrity. They also feared that being lead lawyers in the petition filed by ULS against Choudry, he might be biased against them.
But Choudry rubbished their worries and maintained that he would be impartial.
He said: “…my performance in the judiciary has been impeccable and I demonstrated exemplary behaviour in the past five years as a judge. I did not do anything wrong under our Constitution. In the past I also ruled in favour of clients who were represented by Nangwala and Rezida. I suspect there is some other motive why James Nangwala and Alex Rezida do not want to appear before a gray bearded judge in this case.”
After three years of court arguments, Choudry ruled on March 28 that the tenants had been illegally evicted without being fully compensated. He instructed that they be paid damages, dating back 10 years, since they were evicted. Choudry faulted UIA for not carrying out due diligence, supervision and checks on the land.
He said: “… the whole transaction was suspicious. UIA failed to check land values and the compensation amounts payable.”
Choudry said the German investors, NKG, had a duty to ensure that people were not exploited. But he reserved the harshest criticism for Nangwala and Rezida, UIA’s lawyers.
“Messrs Nangwala and Rezida deliberately withheld information in breach of their fiduciary duty and this deliberate omission was a dishonest conduct. Nangwala and Rezida had forsaken their loyalty to the Leaser and Lessee in the grant of the lease, when to their knowledge the title was lumbered with encumbrances,” Choudry said.
DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS
Breaking: Three community land rights defenders from Kawaala have been arrested.
Breaking: Three community land rights defenders from Kawaala have been arrested.
By Witness Radio team
Police at Old Kampala Regional Police Headquarter have arrested three of the six community land rights defenders from Kawaala Zone II, Kampala suburb, and preferred a fraud charge before being released on bond.
Kasozi Paul, Busobolwa Adam, and Kabugo Micheal got arrested on their arrival before being taken inside interrogation rooms. They were questioned from 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM local time and later recorded their statements.
Section 342 of the Penal Code states that forgery is the making of a false document with the intent to defraud or deceive. It carries a three year imprisonment on conviction.
According to lawyers representing victims, defenders are arrested on the orders of the Deputy Resident City Commissioner (RCC) in charge of Rubaga Division Anderson Burora and accused them of fraud.
Resident City Commissioner is a representative of the president in the Capital City at the division level.
The charges are a result of continued resistance by Kawaala community seeking fair compensation and resettlement before Lubigi drainage channel is constructed. Since the first COVID outbreak in 2020, the victim defenders and others have been leading a pushback campaign to stop forced evictions by a multimillion dollars Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2) funded by World Bank. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is the implementor of the project.
This project first impacted Kawaala Zone II around 2014, when a channel diversion was constructed. The current planned expansion will widen that channel and require forced evictions across an area at least 70 meters wide and 2.5 km long.
The New Vision, a local daily of June 21st, 2022, quoted Burora accusing Kasozi Paul, one of the community land rights defenders from Kawaala Zone II of being a fraudster.
Witness Radio – Uganda challenges the deputy RCC Burora to produce evidence that pins the defenders on fraud instead of criminalizing the work of defenders.
“We warn Mr. Burora against using police to harass defenders who have openly opposed a project which is causing negative impacts on the community” Adong Sarah, one of the lawyers representing the defenders said.
The defenders got released on police bond as they are expected to report back to the police on Monday, the 18th of July 2022 at 11:00 AM local time.
DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS
Signs of harmful projects with financing from development institutions are spotted in Uganda…
By Witness Radio Team.
The growth of a country is discerned by great leaders and innovators who see opportunities out of darkness and transform their areas from nothing to success. Those are great leaders whose interest is to see the developments in their countries and the well-being of their citizens.
Every single day, countries all over the world receive investors that acquire loans, grants, and donations to implement mega projects that are seemingly expected to develop host countries. countries and investors borrowing the money Often, countries and investors portray how these projects improve the livelihood of the browbeaten, au contraire, they have left many broken families, poor-dirty homesteads, and shattered dreams.
Uganda is one of those countries, whose citizens have paid a price for reckless or unsupervised and profit-led international investment. In a bid to implement its industrial policy, the country has welcomed both foreign and local investors with interests in the fields of extraction, industrial agriculture, carbon credit tree plantation, mining, infrastructural projects, and many others.
It has received billions of dollars from different financiers including commercial banks, Pension Funds, and International Development Finance Banks or institutions, among others. For instance, the World Bank has invested more than 20 Billion Dollars since 1963 and currently
Every project comes with its own chilling story. More often their stories are unheard by the World. Witness Radio – Uganda surveyed some projects in Uganda. This study revealed agony, illegal evictions, abject poverty, environmental degradation, and loss of life among others, as some of the consequences suffered by the would-be beneficiaries of these international funded projects across the country.
In the capital of Uganda, Kampala, over 1750 families were forcefully evicted from a city suburb, Naguru, for Naguru- Nakawa housing estates. 11 years down the road the project that was highly hyped is to take off on the grabbed land. Pleas from the victims of the eviction to regain their land have all fallen on deaf ears.
About 80km away from Kampala is the island district of Kalangala surrounded by the World’s second-largest lake, Victoria, and known for palm growing. When the palm-oil project was introduced to residents they were given the impression that it would improve their livelihoods and create job opportunities. Instead, it has dumped thousands into poverty after their land was grabbed by BIDCO, a Wilmer international-funded project. People lost land and now work on plantations as casual laborers. The neighboring communities are accusing BIDCO workers of sexual and gender-based violence.
In the South-Western District of Kiryandongo, multinational companies including Agilis Partners Limited, Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, and Great Seasons SMC Limited with funding from The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, and Common Fund for Commodities among other financiers are forcefully evicting more than 35,000 people. The eviction has been on since 2017.
Workers that worked on a World Bank Project in Soroti, in the far east of the country, are accused of sexually harassing minors. Several young girls were defiled and left pregnant. Despite the government being aware of this none of the pedophiles have been brought to book, the World Bank-funded project in the Eastern Town of Soroti left several underage girls defiled and impregnated.
In late 2020, residents of Kawaala zone II woke up to the hail of armed men and graders evicting and destroying their properties to implement a multimillion-dollar project funded by the World Bank. The project is being implemented by the Kampala Capital city Authority (KCCA) on behalf of the government of Uganda.
The above-listed and other projects, on the other hand, continue to perpetuate violence and judicial harassment against leaders of Project Affected Persons (PAPs) and community land and environmental rights defenders because of their work that resists illegal evictions and destruction of the environment among others.
Although project implementers such as government entities accuse local communities of occupying land targeted for projects illegally, in most cases victim communities have rights over these pieces of land because their settlement on the same land can be traced to have happened generations ago.
No matter how people are negatively impacted being by these harmful projects, financiers continue to release more money to the government and investors. The banks aim at profit margins other than the livelihoods of the people. In Bulebi village, Mbazi parish, Mpunge Sub County in Mukono district, Akon’s futuristic city is about to lead to the eviction of over 1000 residents whose entire lives have been built on their land.
In April last year, American rapper Aliaune Damala Badara well known for his stage name AKON visited Uganda in search of land for constructing the city. On the same business trip, he met President Museveni Yoweri Kaguta and expressed his interest in building a futuristic city with its currency. The president ordered the Ministry of Lands, housing, and urban development to look out for free land for his city.
However, on 7th Jan 2022, the Uganda Land Commission showed the Minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development “Hon Judith Nabakooba” land that was proposed for the Akon city. According to the Uganda land commission, the land is Freehold Volume 53 Folio 9 measuring I square mile.
This has sparked outrage amongst the affected as they were never consulted or consented to allow the project in their community. According to community members that Witness Radio interviewed, they said they heard the distressing news of Akon city through the Media.
The community said no official from the ministry has ever approached them about their land giveaway. “Our country is full of land evictions and evictors begin in that way. There has been no official coming on the ground to officially inform us about the project and neither have we heard any official communication of compensation.” Obori said.
Residing in the attractive village surrounded by freshwaters, the community asserts this has been the source of livelihood and advised the government to get alternative land for the City.
Controversies surrounding the land giveaway and ownership of the area still exist. A section of residents have protested and vowed not to surrender their land for the City. They claim to have acquired freehold titles from the Mukono lands board.
DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS
Breaking: over 350,000 acres of land were grabbed during Witness Radio – Uganda’s seven months ban.
By Witness Radio Team.
As the onslaught on civil society heightens, its space continues to shrink which has bearing on the services they render to the communities. Witness Radio, was among the 54 organizations suspended by Uganda’s National Bureau for Nongovernmental Organizations on August 20th, 2021. The actions are amongst the recent forms of attack on civil societies in Uganda. Other numerous attacks include arrests of rights activists, harassment, tortures, and office- break-ins at night by security operatives who move away with valuables.
The effects of this suspension were felt by communities facing land grabs across the country. For seven months while the organization was suspended, over 300,000 people were evicted from their land and couldn’t access specialized and prompt legal assistance.
Witness Radio Uganda, globally known for its campaign against community land-grabs couldn’t assist these victims of land grab since it risked facing further sanctions from the Bureau in case it intervened. However, last week, there was some relief, when Uganda’s National Bureau for NGOs lifted suspension and certified its operation.
According to Mrs. Bulyerali Joan, the Head Legal at Witness Radio – Uganda, the organization conducted a review of the evictions that happened during the suspension. With information and assistance from some lawyers, local journalists, and community land and environmental rights defenders across the country, the evictions watchdog was able to document cases of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans that were either forcefully evicted or received threats of evictions while in its limbo.
The ban imposed on Witness Radio coupled with the disruptive impacts of COVID- 19 resulted in the surge of eviction cases, especially in areas where the organization had a presence. Throughout the ban, without access to swift and prompt legal support, the communities resorted to sharing with the world their ordeal.
She further noted that the evictions were conducted in disregard of the law on evictions. “I was shocked to see powerful people and companies take advantage of our suspension to escalate the evictions of vulnerable communities that received our assistance. The evictions did not comply with the land eviction practice directives. None of them was preceded by legal court orders.” She noted.
According to the Land Eviction directives, issued by the former Chief Justice of Uganda, Bart Katureebe, evictions shall be preceded by valid court order, properly identifying the persons taking part in the eviction, and upon presentation of formal authorizations. The police and local authority of the area shall be notified and shall be present to witness the evictions, among others.
Based on the data gathered by the team, various communities across the country were left dispossessed by land grabbers without any form of assistance. Others have received threatening messages with intentions of dispossessing them off their land.
During the period under review, over 300,000 people across the country are believed to have been threatened with evictions, while 350,000 acres of land were either grabbed or on verge of being grabbed.
“However much, we gathered this information, we expect the cases to be higher because some evictions go unreported either due to the remoteness of the areas or other related factors.” One of the collaborators observed.
The evictions were extremely violent. They were characterized by kidnaps, arrests and detentions, torture that often-caused unexpected grief to the communities.
Among the most affected districts include Kyankwanzi, Mubende, Kassanda, Hoima, Buikwe, Wakiso, Kikuube, and Bulambuli districts.
In some of the mentioned districts, the Lands, Housing, and Urban Development Minister toured and halted the evictions but the evictors continued unabated.
Mr. Kimazi Experito, a journalist based in Mubende, attributed the rise of evictions to the organization’s suspension which denied the evictions-affected communities access to specialized legal assistance.
He said Witness Radio has offered support to over 20 land-grab-affected communities in Mubende with legal support. “Witness radio is a game-changer that brought back lives of evicted communities to normal,” he lauded.
“Mubende is one of the fastest-growing areas because of gold and other minerals as well as factors related to fertile soils. Currently, it is one of the hotspots of evictions. Opportunists used this chance to grab land from people with full attention. Without the defenders, it’s often hard for people to get justice since local people are not much informed about land laws.” Kimazi explained.
Engineered by powerful people in public offices, multinational companies, and politicians using state machinery including the army and national police, forced evictions to continue to affect food sovereignty and threaten the role of indigenous communities to protect the environment.
During the same period, President Yoweri Museveni stopped any eviction without the approval of the Resident District Commissioners. However, legal experts warned that the move is to usurp the powers of the Judiciary. In a statement signed by Pheona Nabasa Wall, the Uganda Law Society President noted that the directive undermined the role and independence of courts in handling eviction matters.
That notwithstanding, “Occasionally, the residents are not given any opportunity to negotiate with the landlords. Even when the government obliges to pay landowners, neither does the government nor the evictor compensate for the damaged property. During evictions, properties that were made for their life end up being destroyed in seconds which causes lifetime misery.” Paul Kasoozi, a community land rights defender stated.
With different tactics aimed at alienating the poor from their land, it has been established that the police and the army continued to play a huge role in the largest forms of violent evictions through torture, arbitrary arrests, and detention and instilling fear and pressurizing the local communities to vacate their land on orders of the evictors.
Many of those community members who oppose land evictions end up being kidnapped, tortured, or arrested and detained to silence the community. It takes support from an organization defending communities’ land rights to intervene for such communities to get justice.
Days before the lifting of the suspension imposed on Witness Radio, communities neighboring the Katta Barracks in Bulambuli district, were violently evicted by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces under the alleged command of Lieutenant Colonel Mukiibi Julius without offering alternative resettlement.
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