By Sania Babirye
Three persons who were convicted and sentenced to five and seven years in Luzira prison for causing a 24.7 billion loss to government in the shoddy upgrade of the Mukono-Katosi-Nyenga Road have been granted bail by the court of appeal.
These include the former director of finance at the Uganda Revenue Authority Joe Semugooma, Businessman Apollo Senkeeto and UNRA accountant Wilberforce Senjaako.
They have been temporally released on a ten million cash bail by Justice Cheborion Barishaki who had concluded hearing their bail applications in December 2018.
While granting bail, Justice Barishaki ruled that the three needed specialized medical attention due to their various ill health that can not be managed at Luzira prison and had substantial sureties who would ensure that they return to court whenever summoned.
Bussinesman Senkeeto has been ordered to deposit his land title on a land in Gombe, his passport and the ten million he had deposited at High court transferred at the court of appeal.
The troubled businessman was sentenced to ten years in Luzira prison after anti corruption court found him guilty of being the mastermind and an architect of said scam .
The group was part of the seven people including former works minister Abraham Byandala had had been charged with corruption over the said funds.
However, in August 2018 , the now minister without portfolio Abraham Byandala was let- off the hook and cleared of all charges .
This is after Anti-corruption court judge Lawrence Gududu acquitted him on charges of Abuse of office and disobedience of lawful orders from the IGG in regard to the upgrading of the said three years ago after the IGG had accused him of conniving with UNRA officials to swindle the said funds.
Justice Gidudu instead acquitted him on grounds that given the circumstances surrounding the said road which had become politically sensitive and had sparked off riots due to delays in its construction, the minster was right to direct signing of the contract to begin construction works .
Justice Gidudu also ruled that the solicitor General had given clearance for the construction of the said road by availing the funds yet works on the said road had stalled since 2010, and as a result, the minister acted in good faith rather than fraud intention when he signed the contract.
The judge did also exonerated Byandala of being aware that the securities upon which payment of the 24.7 billion shillings was based were forged since he is not mandated to verify the authenticity of securities .
He was also found not guilty of disobeying lawful orders from the IGG to stop works on the road because according to the evidence, Byandala never saw the said letter from the IGG directing him to stop works on the said road and that prosecution did also not bother to call his secretary a one Matilda who is said to have received the letter on his behalf to verify if he had indeed received the said letter .
In conclusion, Justice Gidudu ruled that the signing of the contract was not irregular and also cleared his co-accused and former UNRA Executive Director Eng. Berunado Sebuuga of Abuse of office
However, Justice Gidudu did find guilty and convicted Semugooma and sentenced him to seven years, Wilberforce Senjaako an accountant was found guilty of neglect of duty by failing to verify securities before approving an advance payment of 24.7 billion shillings to EUTAW company and Businessman Apollo Senkeeto, the masterminded who is said to have stolen the said funds since he is the only one who had access by falsely representing himself as the country director of EUTAW Mississippi in Uganda where as not.
The court also convicted Wilberforce Senjaako of forgery of Bank security guarantees and performance bonds which Senkeeto uttered to UNRA for purposes of fraudulently accessing the 24.7 billion shillings .
Other accused persons who were cleared include Marvin Baryaruha -the UNRA legal advisor on grounds that the advise he offered in signing and drawing the contract between EUTAW and UNRA was solicited by his boss and there is no way he could establish whether the securities presented were fake and that his legal advise was not mandatory to his bosses.
He had been charged of Abuse of office and causing financial loss, and a one Isaac Mugote was also cleared.
In July 2018, the two court accessers advised justice Lawrence Gidudu to aquit all the seven suspects.Vincent Oketch and Stanley Kurongo informed court that they believed that the IGG failed to adduce sufficient evidence to warrant a conviction of the suspects.
The court accessors are members of the public appointed and sworn in by court who give their layman’s opinion after following the case hearing from the beginning to the end but their opinion is not binding to that of the judge because a judge can choose to regard or disregard it.
The group was accused of regularly awarding the contract to rehabilitate the said road to a non-existent company- EUTAW which is said to have sub-contracted another company with no expertise and equipment to do the job.
On the 10th of October 2017, justice Gidudu ruled that Byandala and his co accused had a case to answer because the IGG had proved a pre-mafacie case against them,however the group has since maintained their innocence denying to have stolen the said public funds.
Byandala’s co accused included the former Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) officials, Berunado Ssebbugga the former UNRA acting Executive Director, Joe Ssemugooma former acting Director finance and administration , Wilberforce Senjako Regional accountant and Marvin Baryaruha who was the UNRA lawyer.
Others included city businessman Apolo Senkeeto who was charged with theft and obtaining the contentious 24.7 bn shillings by falsely representing himself as the president of ETAW -Uganda, the ghost company and a one Isaac Mugote of Housing Finance Bank who is accused of failing to verify the securities presented by ETAW before releasing out the money
The accused were facing 24 counts of abuse of office,disobedience of lawful orders,influence and peddling,obtaining money by false pretense and embezzlement among others.
According to the IGG,on the 14th of November 2013 Byandala ordered the signing of a contract between UNRA and Etawu, a construction company before due date for construction and upgrading of the road leading to the loss of 24.7 billion shillings to a company that was not qualified.
The IGG charged Byandala with Abuse of office , causing government a financial loss and disobedience of her orders to stop works on the Mukono-katosi -Nyenga road.
She accused the former works Minister to have defied her orders and instead influenced the procurement process and proceeded to sign the contract to an incompetent company ETAW.
In his written submission, Byandala claimed that he had the mandate to give policy directives as a minister however Justice Gidudu ruled that Byandala must explain whether in his policy directive, it involved directing UNRA to sign a contract to a ghost company.