Justice Dr Joseph Murangira, a High Court judge—Family Division, who was recently one of those tipped to become the Inspector General of Government but didn’t make it although he was President Yoweri Museveni’s favorite choice, is being fronted to head a Commission of Inquiry into corruption in UMEME that will soon be instituted.
Intelligence agencies had cleared Justice Murangira and given the President green-light to appoint him as next IGG to succeed Lady Justice Irene Mulyagonja, who has since been named a judge on the Supreme Court bench. However, the judiciary opposed appointment of Judge Murangira.
The judiciary, according to highly placed intelligence sources, argued that Justice Dr Murangira was too much of an NRM supporter. Sources have intimated to this newspaper that when former Chief Justice Bart Katureebe was asked to recommend Justice Murangira for the IGG post, Katureebe said that his colleague was a replica of former deputy Chief Justice, Steven Kavuma, who was accused of issuing injunctions favoring the ruling NRM government.
“The former Chief Justice gave a recommendation that didn’t favor Justice Murangira. Katureebe said that his colleague behaves like former deputy chief justice Kavuma. That Mulangira is too much of an NRM cadre,” a source privy to Katureebe’s recommendation said.
Apparently, Katureebe’s missive on murangira was a last minute intervention that broke the camel’s back. Sources say President Museveni was so disappointed and even attempted to defer the appointment of a full IGG arguing that the deputy should act. “The President wanted Murangira,” the source said.
Katureebe’s position was reportedly backed by the civil society groups that also kept lobbying against Justice Murangira. Eventually, Justice Lydia Mugambe of Civil Division of the High Court in Kampala was appointed IGG after a group of lobbyists, led by big-name city lawyer Kiwanuka Kiryowa convinced the President that she was the best choice on grounds that she
Kiwanuka Kiryowa and Justice Lydia Mugambe have known each other for a long time as professional colleagues. In addition, Kiwanuka Kiryowa’s professional advice could not be ignored since he is President Museveni’s very influential personal lawyer and close to the First Family.
But Murangira was considered a loyal cadre whom the President badly wanted to occupy the next IGG. One of the grounds that influenced Murangira’s clearance by Intelligence agencies was how the judge intervened and advised government to handle the People’s Redemption Army suspects associated with Opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who has been competing for the presidency against incumbent Gen Museveni.
The other ground, according to intelligence sources, is that most of Justice Murangira’s key judgments have never been overturned by a higher court.
Other candidates marketed by different power brokers to the President included George Nathan Bamugemereire who was preferred by outgoing Mulyagonja and Mariam Wangadya.
But barely before dust settling on the IGG job, Justice Murangira is again being fronted to head a Commission of Inquiry into corruption in UMEME and UEDCL.
Justice Murangira didn’t respond to our calls regarding the proposed appointments that could catapult him to the next level in the Judiciary. He also didn’t respond to a text message to his phone number.
However, sources in State House claim that President Museveni is instituting a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the electricity agencies after receiving damning information on corruption within UMEME from a whistle-blower.
UEMEME recorded notable growth in electricity sales and profits at the end of 2019, boosting its share price but there is persistent uncertainty surrounding renegotiation of Umeme’s 20-year concession agreement.
The electricity company borrowed more than $100 million from various lenders for rehabilitation and expansion of its distribution network.
The firm’s sales revenues increased from Ush1.5 trillion ($380 million) in December 2018 to Ush1.8 trillion ($456 million) in December 2019, a trend mainly driven by new consumers at the Namanve and Nakaseke Industrial Parks with an estimated 12 manufacturing factories. The utility firm’s customer numbers have also increased by 14 per cent to 1.5 million users in 2019.
However, the President now wants a Commission of Inquiry to investigate both UMEME and UEDCL whose findings could eventually determine whether the concession agreement is cancelled or not. The Muranagira Commission of Inquiry is expected to be announced “very soon”.
The directive not to renew UMEME’s contract is a result of the company’s failure to provide Ugandans with affordable, reliable and safe power among others.
In 2009, only four years after the UMEME concession was signed, a committee that reviewed electricity tariffs headed by Gen. Salim Saleh noted that the concession was bad and recommended for its renegotiation. So bad was the concession and other electricity sector failures such as cheating of customers through faulty metres by UMEME that Saleh later called for the renationalization of the power sector.
In 2013, an adhoc parliamentary committee that investigated electricity failures also called for termination of UMEME’s concession because it was highly unfair on Ugandans while it favored UMEME.
In 2018, the President again demanded for an investigation questioning UMEME’s ‘mysterious’ investments and losses that have kept power prices up. The President, who noted that the inflated energy losses contribute 26% to the electricity tariff while UMEME’s ‘mysterious’ investments account for 22% of the tariff, directed that UMEME’s contract should not be renewed. He called for investigations by the IGG over the ‘messed’ up concession.
The 2004 Auditor General report put power losses at 28%. Ugandans are paying one of the highest electricity prices of US cents 12 for each kilowatt of electricity generated from Bujagali.
Justice Murangira’s professional conduct
The Judiciary has had run-ins with Justice Murangira for quite some time. Justice Murangira has been investigated over disappearance of a case file after allegedly demanding a bribe. It is alleged that Murangira caused the disappearance of the file for eight years.
But in defense, Justice Murangira said in 2005/06 when he is alleged to have made his judgment on the said case, he was still a registrar of Court of Appeal, not a judge as claimed by the petitioner, and therefore could not have presided over the criminal case.
In July 2019, Mulangira was further entangled in another scandal when his bodyguard assumed his boss’ position to preside over court at Mubende High Court.
The court presided over by Justice Murangira was scheduled to hear a case in which a group of more than 3000 people were protesting against their eviction from five villages in Mubende District by one George Kaweesi from a piece of land measuring 322.5 hectares with the help of police personnel.
When court sat a group of lawyers led by Eron Kiiza, Nicholas Opio and other advocates from the Network of Public Interest Lawyers representing the evictees were told by the judge’s bodyguard, only identified as Tusingwire that the judge who was in his chambers had sent him to tell court that the matter could not be heard on that day.
When the lawyers demanded to know the reason for court not to sit, they were told by the bodyguard that some of the complainants who were the primary applicants had not been produced to court despite their production warrants being signed on by the judge.
When the lawyers tried to access the judge’s chambers for a proper explanation as to why Justice Murangira had not showed up in court they were blocked by the security guard.
On demanding to know when the next date for hearing of the matter was, the judge’s bodyguard told the lawyers that Justice Murangira had asked them to find out from the Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe.
Later, through their lawyers, the locals complained against the judge saying he had allegedly sided with their tormentors adding that he had subsequently adopted a strange procedure compelling the victims of the land grabbing to file submissions before completion of the pleadings.
The Chief Justice wrote to Justice Murangira to defend himself against the allegations labelled against him.
In a turn of events Murangira filed a libel charge with police Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Department, Kibuli against Eron Kiiza, a human rights lawyer of Kiiza and Mugisha Advocates, who had represented the locals in the eviction case.
In another case in 2017, the Constitutional Court ordered Uganda’s parliament to pay sh50m to Justice Murangira for injuring his reputation by making a report against him without giving him a fair hearing.
This followed a consent judgment he entered between a private company Beach Side Development Services and National Forestry Authority on September 05, 2009, where he awarded Beach Side damages of over $1.6 million.
However when the said award was presented to the Attorney General for settlement by the then Water and Environment Minister, Justice Murangira was summoned to appear before PAC on September 07, 2012 but declined to appear, prompting PAC to make a report against him which was adopted by Parliament in 2013.
Five Justices led former Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma ruled that the stand that Justice Murangira took not to appear before PAC was right since he was going to be subjected to proceedings that were unconstitutional and the justices deemed it fit to award Justice Murangira damages of Sh50m, for the negative publication based on unconstitutional Parliamentary process that caused him inconvenience, anguish and injury.
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