It will take government some 74 years to clear outstanding court awards arising from civil cases currently standing at a tune of Shs 676 billion.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Gen Kahinda Otafiire told legislators on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee that his ministry doesn't have a clear financial strategy in how the outstanding arrears will be cleared. Otafiire told the MPs that the ministry needs at least Shs 9 billion every financial year to clear the the bill.
President Museveni (R) with Kahinda Otafiire the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs
Now, the legislators have asked government to borrow money and pay off the awards that has accumulated over the last 10 years and this arises mainly from civil cases ruled in favour of people or entities and compensations awarded.
Legal Affairs committee chairperson also West Budama South MP Jacob Oboth Oboth, said the only viable option for government now, is to seek a loan and clear the huge figure which is attracting costly interests for government.
"Providing only Shs 9.35 billion per financial year, let us take it as a yardstick, is government prepared to pay the total arrears assuming no interest arises again from the Shs 657 billion? Is government prepared to pay in 74 years because if every financial year you’re paying Shs 9 billion, then it will take you 74 years to clear the arrears. Why can’t government borrow to pay because court awards are already debt. We’re borrowing here to do infrastructure?", said Oboth Oboth.
Otafiire pleaded with parliament to devise means of helping government to punish errant government officers whose indiscipline and character has caused government financial loss.
"The primary remedy to these court awards is ensuring that government doesn’t cause these court awards and that can be best done by governments and departments and agencies by ensuring that their officials don’t transgress on the rights of citizens and therefore cause court awards." said Otafiire.
"For instance you take a department like Lands, a registrar issues three titles on the same land and those who have received the three titles when they go to court… then you find court awards and etc and etc. And when these people are called to come and defend themselves or provide information to the directorate of civil litigation for proper management of the case, they are missing. And those who are missing in action, nothing is done. So honourable members, I think it is time parliament put its foot down and punish these MDAs and individuals. Individuals can make mistakes in the course of their work and but their instances when the mistakes are deliberate."
Otafiire further told the committee that the ministry's main remedy to court awards accumulation is to have more state attorneys, judges, judicial officers and prosecutors whose inadequate number has been contributing to government loss of cases hence court awards.
The committee members asked the ministry to provide a list of court awards that originate from all government agencies. Solomon Muyita, the judiciary spokesperson, says in some cases, government breaches terms of contract which leads to the awards.
He says awards from Uganda Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) for victims of human rights violations are also what contributes to the huge amounts.
"When court awards someone, it takes long because government has to pay this money in phases, and so you find someone going five to ten years without getting compensated. And the money government releases to the ministry is never enough," says Muyita.