The Secretary to the Judiciary, Pius Bigirimana, has refused to pay Shs 27m in travel allowances for Supreme Court Judge, Prof Lillian Ekirikubinza, Tibatemwa, saying he would not “commit public funds” to the official’s an “unauthorised private errand”.
It all started on May 8, 2018 with Justice Tibatemwa requesting retired Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe, authority to attend courses at the National Judicial College in United States.
At the time, the judiciary was grappling with a huge public outcry over the case backlog.
Justice Katureebe advised Tibatemwa to stay in Uganda and “handle these pending cases because we are suffering with a serious backlog.”
Katureebe further said Judiciary didn’t have ample resources to facilitate Tibatemwa’s trip and studies in United States.
In response, Tibatemwa said the courses were sponsored by donors.
Katureebe gave a green light to the trip on condition that Tibatemwa’s bills would be catered for by sponsors.
“I refer to your letter of 8th May, 2018 seeking permission to attend the courses mentioned therein. I note that your participation in those courses is fully sponsored by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” said Katureebe in a letter seen by ChimpReports dated May 14, 2018.
“I have no objection to your participating as requesting, and I therefore give you permission to be away from station during the period 16th June t0 28th, 2018,” added Katureebe.
According to a suit filed by Tibatemwa against the Attorney General and Bigirimana, the Supreme Court judge said she “approached” the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for “support” and the office “undertook to facilitate my participation by providing only an economy air ticket and $373 upkeep according to UN rates.”
However, said Tibatemwa, “I had to foot the tuition fees component of $3,603; the difference between the UN rate and the official per diem rate of a Supreme Court Justice of $2,758, an upgrade to business class of $4,759, ground travel of $1,000, fuel from Kampala-Entebbe-Kampala, personally.”
She said in a suit that “she had a telephone conversation with Mr Kagole Kivumbi” who “advised me to use my personal funds which would be refunded on my return from courses in August, 2018.”
Kivumbi was two years ago sacked as Judiciary Secretary over failure to account for billions of funds at his disposal.
Nevertheless, Tibatemwa said the training helped acquired special skills which she used to train other judicial officers in judicial writing under the auspices of the Judicial Training Institute.
She further stated that while waiting for Kivumbi to pay back her money, she got another call for another course in South Africa which Kivumbi again advised her to use her own money.
Tibatemwa said that Kivumbi caused payment of Shs 10m, leaving a balance of Shs 14m.
Tibatemwa’s lawyers led by Prof Jean Barya, a professor of law at Makerere University, demanded “Shs 27m through us not later than two weeks from the date of this letter” or face “legal action.”
ChimpReports understands that Bigirimana who took over from Kivumbi refused to pay the balance, saying the travel by Tibatemwa “was at the instance of the host institutions and funded by them without advance knowledge of the accounting officer.”
In a letter to the Solicitor General, Bigirimana said “at no moment did the judiciary give its stamp of approval of any element of financial implication that Hon Justice Tibatemwa’s travel overseas would have on the budget ceilings for entitled officers’ travel expenses abroad/overseas.”
He said the letter of approval by Katureebe was only to the extent that the participation of Tibatemwa in the courses overseas was fully sponsored by organisers.
“There was no harmonization of Tibatemwa’s travel schedule with the financial implication element it would have to the accounting mandate of the Accounting Officer,” said Bigirimana, adding that her attendance of the courses in South Africa and U.S. “was neither at the instance of the Judiciary nor sanctioned by government.”
Bigirimana said apart from Tibatemwa’s clearance by Katureebe on the “understanding that her travel would have zero financial implication on the budget ceilings for travel abroad/overseas for entitled officers, I have not come across any literature suggesting that Hon Justice of the Supreme Court made use of the formal budgeting, expenditure and accountability process of the judiciary to bring her scheduled travel in confirming with due process.”
“In those circumstances and based on the above findings, I respectfully decline to commit public funds towards an unauthorised private errand by Lady Justice Tibatemwa,” insisted Bigirimana.
Officials at the Solicitor General wondered why Tibatemwa would claim transport refund of Shs 600,000 as transport to and from Entebbe.
“Clearly, there is an issue here which we will have to iron out. That figure alone is indefensible. Unless one says they used a tractor to travel to Entebbe hence the consumption of fuel worth Shs 600, 000,” said an official who preferred anonymity to speak freely.
Before the High Court, Tibatemwa wants compensation of Shs 150m as punitive damages, saying denying her the money caused her embarrassment.
“My children had returned to College and I desperately needed the funds to clear their dues or else I would be fined for late payment which greatly embarrassed me because I was indeed fined, inconvenienced and stressed me mentally,” said the Supreme Court judge who previously taught at Makerere University before joining the bench.
The hearing of the case is expected to start soon.