PARLIAMENT- An accountability meeting that was meant to take place between officials from the Judiciary and Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hit a snug after Legislators protested the absence of the Judiciary Permanent Secretary Kagole Kivumbi.
In the scheduled meeting, the Judiciary team had been led by Christopher Ebel Commissioner in-charge of Engineering and Technical Services, to respond to the audit queries raised by the Auditor General John Muwanga in the financial years 2015/2016 and 2016/2017.
However, the meeting failed to kick off after Ebel informed the MPs that Kagole wasn’t in position to appear before the Committee, something the MPs protested with PAC Chairperson Angelline Osegge maintaining to Kagole appears to account for financial resources provided to the entity.
“Accountability is personal to the accounting, but also, even if he wasn’t around, he didn’t alert us in time.
“They didn’t write to communicate to us that he wasn’t around and he just sends his officers to tell us he won’t be around which we think it was contempt of the Committee,” Osegge said.
She added: “We write to them two weeks in advance, so they should be able to write to us that the accounting officer isn’t available either we reschedule and actually I realized that actually the team that came, they were less than five months in office, so we don’t have much time to spend on this, we would like to handle our work and conclude.”
Osegge also revealed that the Committee was set to issue summons to former Judiciary Permanent Secretary Dorcas Okalany to appear on November 13, who at the moment serves as Permanent Secretary Ministry of Lands Ministry since most of the queries raised happened during her tenure.
The officials were supposed to avail responses over concerns of the escalating contingent liabilities for Court awards and compensations that have hit Shs4,330,041,624,839 as at 30th June 2015 with the figure having shot to Shs5,510,583,811,126 in June 2016.
The contingent liabilities comprise of cases that have been filed against Government pending hearing, the others are cases before courts under hearing and cases in which Government has appealed against the court ruling.
These, according to the Auditor General are determined from estimated amounts of claims against Government by litigants and the amounts are used to determine the fees chargeable before the case is heard and the caliber of Attorney General’s staff to whom the file is to be allocated.
Under the circumstances and magnitude, there is a risk that the contingent liabilities may jeopardize government operations in case the liabilities crystalise.
Judiciary acknowledged the increasing trend of the liabilities and explained that Government had put in place a policy to decentralise court awards to MDAs.
Additionally, the Ministry had outstanding amounts in Court awards, compensations and other liabilities totaling to Shs684,752,969,473 as at 30th June 2016 with the bulk of the liabilities comprised of unsettled court awards and compensations which amounted to Shs680.83Bn while the other liabilities amounted to Shs3.92Bn.
According to Section 26 (2) of the Civil Procedure Act cap 71, court may in a decree order interest at such rate as the court deems reasonable to be paid on the principal sum adjudged from the date of the suit.
At the time of investigation, the Auditors noted that in several court cases ruled against Government by decision of court or by consent of the Attorney General, court awarded interest ranging from 2%, 6%-25% and even up to 40% in some instances.
As a result of government’s failure to pay these court awards on time, the awards have accumulated interest over time and in some instances the interest has exceeded the principle award.
A sample of files revealed cases that had not been paid or considered for payment for close to 10 years after the award was done and these had outstanding accumulated interest totaling Shs175,376,776,109.
The Auditors gave an example of File No. MA/192/2002 under the names of Stephen B. Rwehura and 1096 others for a case registered in 1995, with a court judgment amount of Shs13,164,000,000 at 6% interest rate had accumulated interest of Shs17,497,904,400.
The other file No. HCCS/1/12/2004 in a case involving Southern Range Nyanza Ltd with a judgment amount of Shs8,760,756,112 at interest rate of 2% and interest had accumulated to Shs46,453,167,813
File number C/545/2002 under the names of Mubangizi Patrick with court judgment amount of Shs552,800,000 with interest rate of 25% had accrued interest of Shs541,283,300.
Although the Judiciary blamed the slow payment on limited funds from the Treasury, the Auditor General warned that the rate at which the Government is settling the debts makes it difficult to clear the outstanding amounts on court awards.
Yet still, the Auditors also unearthed discrepancies on the settlement of claimants arising out of court awards that were being done simultaneously by both the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance Treasury Operations (TOP) under mandamus orders.
However, in some cases; the same claims have been partly paid by both Ministry of Justice and the Treasury yet the exercise was marred with delayed reconciliation of the payments and in some instances there were reconciliation issues at the Treasury and the Ministry of Justice which could not be harmonised since the payables ledgers are only maintained at Ministry of Justice.
Whereas the Treasury indicated total amount payable as Shs261,109,101,578, the Ministry of Justice put the figure at Shs86,331,220,017 resulting into a discrepancy of Shs174,777,881,561.
When it comes to schedules of cases pending negotiations, Treasury reported Shs69,534,088,048, yet amounts declared by Ministry of Justice was Shs73,963,143,233 resulting into discrepancy of Shs4,429,055,185 on sampled cases.