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Court order against land commission ‘affects all public inquiries’

COURT | The Commission of inquiry into land matters has bemoaned the receny ruling of Justice Andrew Bashaija on one of the many wrangles it’s investigating, saying it is “a weapon not only against the commission of inquiry, but also the government so that never again can matter be investigated, inquired into or questioned.”

Justice Bashaija quashed an order by the commission which had had put a plug on payment of billions of Shillings in compensation to businessmen by the Uganda Land Commission (ULC).

Mid this year, the commission instructed Baguma Isoke, ULC’s chairman, to halt any payment from the Land Fund to claimants including Robert Mwesigwa through his company, American Procurement Company (Amproc Inc) pending conclusion of the commission’s investigations into alleged dubious payments.

Sendo Cleaners

The land inquiry had ruled that payment should be made directly to the landlords who sold their interests in the various plots of land located in Kyaggwe, the two Buganda lost counties: Buyaga and Bugangayizi to the businessmen.

Nevertheless, Justice Bashaija, the head of the civil division court, tore to pieces the land commission’s directive and prohibited the officials of Finance ministry, ULC and any other government department from implementing the said recommendation.

“A permanent injunction doth issue restraining any government department or official or any commission of inquiry from interfering with compensation as directed by court relating to land in issue or any other plot of land which is subject of court judgment or order,” the court ruled.

The judge also quashed a decision by the Inspector General of Government to investigate compensation by ULC as well as compensation for the said land having been ordered by court.

In response to the judgment, the commission through Douglas Siginza, its secretary, after listing a litany of disagreements with Justice Bashaija’s orders, has asked the Attorney General, who represents it’s interests , not only to appeal the judgment but also stay the execution of the of the same pending the said appeal .

Having obtained and read the ruling, the commission pokes holes into the same saying though it has an effect on its operations Justice Bashaija denied it the right to be heard.

“We note that the court contrived to reject all evidence presented on behalf of the commission of inquiry by the Attorney General for reasons that are not legally tenable,” the commission said.

“To add insult to injury, after declining to consider the secretary’s affidavit, the honorable judge then went on to reject an earlier affidavit filed by the Attorney General on that basis that the deponent was not an employee of the commission of inquiry.”

The commission added that the irony of this suggest that the court was determined to treat the application as it was unopposed.

Judge in his own case

Justice Bashaija has been accused by the commission of some sort of conflict of interest. They accuse him of using a precedent in which he was the judge to rule against the commissions.

To back up his reasoning, the commission notes at paragraph seven of his ruling, Justice Bashaija referred to the High court civil suit number 456 Daniel Walugembe Vs Attorney General and High court miscellaneous cause application number 1525 of 2016, arising from the former.

In that case Bashaija ruled, “a judgment on admission” was entered in favour of the applicant who was Walugembe.

“We have reason to believe that the“judgment on admission” was entered by and presided over by the same honorable Justice Andrew K Bashaija in his previous positions as a judge at the lands division,” the lengthy dossier reads.

“Bashaija is now also the judge in the instant application for judicial review in the civil division which is premised on the basis that the Commission of inquiry has acted contrary to his previous orders.”

One of the cardinal principles, in the procedures governing judicial review applications, the commission says is that “no person shall be a judge in his own cause.”

“In light of the fact that the earlier “judgment on admission” is central to the judicial review application, we are of the view the judge acted in a matter in which he had more than normal judicial interest and was therefore not the appropriate person to consider the application,“ the commission said.

The judge, according to the commission was wrong to reject Singinza’s affidavit, in matter where the commission was an interested party and where its secretary would be a proper witness.

“The judge rejected the secretary’s affidavit in reply on the erroneous basis that it was filed after the applicant filed an affidavit in rejoinder,” the commission says, “ in arriving at this decision , the judge relied on a precedent arising from an election petition which he then claimed settled the position on the admissibility of affidavits responding to affidavits in rejoinder.”

The commission also took exception Justice Bashaija order which read: “An order of prohibition doth issue prohibiting the Ministry of Finance officials, the ULC and any other government department or official from implementing the recommendation, decision or order of the commission of inquiry contained in a letter dated August 2, to the chairman ULC from the said commission of inquiry directing that compensation be paid to the landlords.”

A simple reading of Justice Bashaija’s orders, the commission says coveys an impression that it applies to all property including land and claims which don’t belong to the applicant in this case.

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