Makerere University Vice Chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe and one other senior university official are staring down at potential prison time, as well as payment of large sums of money in court fines, in the heat of a corruption scandal that’s been silently rocking the top administration of the country’s leading education institution.
A court in Kampala is set in the coming weeks, to decide among others, whether or not to commit Prof Nawangwe and Prof Charles Barugahare, the University Secretary, to Luzira Prison as requested by a group of accusers through their lawyers.
The complainants are former university support staff members who were terminated from the institution in 2016.
The former staffers through their lawyers of Banturaki and Co. Advocates want the Vice Chancellor and the University Secretary to be sent to jail on the basis of ‘contempt of court.’
Nawangwe and Baruhahare are being accused by the complainants, of ignoring a court order by the Industrial Court, to return up to Shs 170Million, which was recovered by the university from the same court at the start of this year.
Lawyers of the complaints believe Nawangwe and Barugahare fraudulently withdrew this money when it was deposited by the Court to the university account; and shared it amongst themselves, in a conspiracy that involved a few of the complaining staff members and their initial lawyers.
The staff members, were initially represented by Counsel Severino Twinobusingye, of Twinobusingye and Co Advocates, who they dropped last year and hired Banturaki and Co. Advocates as the alleged conspiracy unraveled.
In in 2016, a total of 28 support staff members dragged Makerere University to the Kawempe District Labor Office, for wrongful termination of their contracts.
The Labor Office under the Ministry of Gender is the baseline tribunal that handles work related complaints.
The Labor officer ruled in favor of the staff, and ordered for their reinstatement and for the university to pay them a sum of Shs 274Million in severance, gratuity and NSSF benefits.
The fired employees, through their lawyer Severino Twinobusingye, then proceeded to the Industrial Court to have this order executed, which is a standard procedure.
At the same time, Makerere rushed to the same Industrial Court to appeal the Labor Office ruling.
Faced with two petitions, the Industrial Court stayed the execution and ordered Makerere University to deposit the Shs 275Million which was awarded by the Labor Office.
The decretal sum, as a standard procedure was to stay at the Industrial Court until the petition is disposed of, after which, it would be handed back to the university if its appeal was successful, or to the staff if it failed.
To their surprise however, the staff members claim before the petition hearing could commence, Counsel Twinobusigye, together with just three of the university employees, went behind the back of the rest and secured a consent agreement.
“Once the money was deposited with the court, the lawyers (Twinobusingye) went and connived with the Makerere VC, the Secretary, and three of the staff and entered a consent without the participation of the rest of the staff,” says Counsel Paddy Banturaki, who is now representing 24 of the staff members.
“Once the consent was presented to court, the court commenced the process of releasing the decretal sum back to Makerere University, with an initial pay out of Shs 175million.”
As part of the consent, Banturaki says, Makerere paid Shs 50Million out of the 175Million to Mr Twinobusingye’s law firm.
At this point, the complaints realized there was a problem, fired Twinobusingye and hired Banturaki.
The group through their new lawyers rushed to High Court and secured an order cancelling the consent agreement with Makerere.
Following the order, the Industrial Court on March 1st 2019 immediately halted payment of the remainder of the decretal amount, and sternly rebuked Twinobusigye’s conduct.
“We take exception to the conduct of these lawyers for having made representation to the officials of the respondent that their clients, (the applicants) had given authority to the three people to represent them in the negotiations for the settlement without proof of such authority,” the industrial court panel ruled.
The court then ordered Makerere to bring back the 175million, so that the petition hearing could resume.
However, this money had already been chipped, first to pay the lawyers (50million), while the rest “went missing.”
“We believe the Vice Chancellor, and the Secretary shared the rest of the money since it had already been voted out of the university books,” Counsel Banturaki says.
Prof Nawangwe however, denied withdrawing or sharing the money when we reached him for a comment. He accused the complaints of peddling lies.
With no trace of the 175million, Makerere’s own lawyers of Kibeedi and Co. Advocates, on March 5th wrote to the VC and the Secretary, warning them to quickly return the sum to court.
The lawyers asked the duo to “…kindly comply with the court order as soon as possible to avoid further unnecessary complications.”
With no response from the University, court wrote back giving them up to May 31 to have the money returned.
Once, this deadline elapsed, Banturaki and his team went and filed an application seeking for Nawangwe and Secretary Barugahare to be penalized for contempt of court.
“We are now seeking for the Vice Chancellor and the Secretary to be sent to Luzira until that money is produced,” Banturaki says.
In the same application which was filed on June 14th, the lawyers also asked court to fine Nawangwe and Barugahare up to Shs 200million for contempt of court.
Nawangwe Speaks Out
Speaking to our reporter on phone, Vice Chancilor Prof Nawangwe sought to distance himself from the scandal, stressing that the decretal sum was deposited by court on the university accounts and not his personal account. As such, he said, he has no authority to withdraw it.
“If the lawyers have any evidence that I picked the money from the account they should produce it,” Nawangwe said.
“If they don’t have evidence, they should stop peddling lies. I cannot take any money from the university account; I am not a signatory. The university money is managed by the Ministry of Finance.”
He added, “Those people are peddling lies. If they are former staff, they are expected to be people with integrity and they should pursue their case using facts instead of peddling lies.”
The Industrial Court will be sitting on August 19th to make a ruling on whether or not to commit Nawangwe and Barugahare to Luzira, and/or fining them as requested by the lawyers.