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Mak Lawyer Steps Out of Tribunal Citing Conflict of Interest

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Muhumuza asked to step down from the case filed by Dr. Denis Asiimwe Katebire, formerly an assistant lecturer at Makerere Law School’s Public Interest Law Clinic-PILAC while appearing before the Justice Patrick Tabaro-led Staff Appeals Tribunal on Wednesday to represent the University.
Cannon Goddy Muhanguzi Muhumuza looks on as Isaac Ssemakadde submits in the Staff Tribunal
Canon Goddy Muhanguzi Muhumuza, the Principal Legal Officer at Makerere University has excused himself from an appeal, in which an academic staff is challenging his dismissal.

Muhumuza asked to step down from the case filed by Dr. Denis Asiimwe Katebire, formerly an assistant lecturer at Makerere Law School’s Public Interest Law Clinic-PILAC while appearing before the Justice Patrick Tabaro-led Staff Appeals Tribunal on Wednesday to represent the University.

Asiimwe is among the more 40 staff that were sacked by Makerere University in December 2018. He was dismissed with disgrace from the University service for allegedly soliciting bribes, a claim he has vehemently denied.  Muhumuza was holding brief for Prossy Katongole Kyazze who was reportedly providing secretarial services to a parallel university probe into the Makerere University graduation gown crisis.  

“I pray for an adjournment on this matter because I have a conflict of interest in this matter. I cannot substantively submit and proceed in this matter,” said Canon Muhumuza.     Dr. Asiimwe’s lawyer, Isaac Ssemakadde objected to the prayer for adjournment, saying all parties had been invited for the hearing and that the university lawyer assigned to the case should have known and committed to the case.  He prayed to the Tribunal to proceed with the case and reinstate his client who he said was unfairly dismissed from university employment.  

“We are seeking for interim relief. Since our client appealed his dismissal, the employment laws regard him to be on suspension once he appeals and he is entitled to half pay,” Ssemakadde said. Upon deliberations, the Tribunal requested for more time to study the matter and give its orders in response to Dr. Asiimwe prayers.  Ssemakadde insists that the cases that informed the final decision against his client were premature, illegal and irrational. 

He argued that the decision was not preceded by the compulsory pre-hearing investigation and other steps required by the law and human resources manual.  "We informed the Board that the Disciplinary Proceedings against our client was defective for uncertainty. For instance, there is unacceptable duplicity to wit ‘soliciting and/or obtaining money from student (s) in exchange for marks’. Who is or are the student (s) at issue and what is the sum of money at issue, the date of alleged incident?” Ssemakadde asked.  

He argues that his client was deprived of the constitutional right to precision and clarity in description of the offense, including the disciplinary offence before the tribunal established by law as well as a reasonable opportunity to be acquitted of all the offenses.  Uganda Radio Network has established that the Bruce Balaba Kabaasa-led Appointments Board declined to grant the investigation report regarding complaints against Asiimwe and proceeded to decide his case in his absence.  

Asiimwe’s Employment Background and how he got into trouble 

  He joined Makerere University in 2001 as a teaching assistant in the Human Rights and Peace Centre, of the then Faculty of Law. In 2004, he applied for appointment as an Assistant Lecturer, which was confirmed by the University Council’s Appointments Committee at its 356th meeting.

In 2014, Asiimwe was suspended from office by Damalie Naggita-Musoke, the then Dean of School of Law for abscondment from duty and soliciting of bribes.  In her January 8th suspension letter to Asiimwe, Dr. Naggita explained that the staffer had been away from duty since June 2013, without due authorization and without any plausible explanation.  

She also highlighted that Dr. Asiimwe, in the exercising his duty as a Member of the teaching staff of the School of Law solicited and obtained money from students in exchange for change of marks.  “In the circumstances and pursuant to the law applicable this office is required to and hereby notifies you in writing of the existence of the above grounds for your removal from office and to which you must respond in writing,” said Dr. Naggita in her suspension letter to Dr. Asiimwe.  

Adding that; “Further, this office is also authorized to and hereby suspends you from office and from your duties as an Assistant Lecturer at the School of Law. The suspension will be effective from the 15th January 2014 and will remain in place, pending conclusion of investigations/inquiry into the allegations contained in the above complaints.”  

Asiimwe challenged his suspension in the Civil Division of High Court where he jointly sued the law School and Makerere University. In his April 7th 2017 ruling, Justice Yasin Nyanzi declared his suspension irregular and illegal.  Justice Yasin Nyanzi faulted Makerere University for suspending Asiimwe without investigations and giving him a hearing. He referred the matter to the University Staff Tribunal for a full hearing.  

Court also ordered payment of his monthly Faculty Top-Up allowance of Shillings. 450,000 from July 2013 to March 2017, dully covering the period of the “illegal suspension” to the period of the decision of Court being Shillings 20 Million with an 8 per cent interest from the date of order to the date of full payment.  

“That having referred the matter to the Appointments Board and Staff Tribunal, it means, it is not over. The applicant though is awarded half of the taxed costs of the application,” says an order issued by Joy Bahinguza Kabagye, the Acting Assistant Registrar of the Civil Division of High Court in 2018.  

Following the ruling, Makerere University Appointments Board sitting at its 546th meeting held on April 21st 2017 received and discussed a Court ruling in respect to Asiimwe.  The Board agreed to request the University Secretary to initiate an appeal on behalf of the university against the costs awarded and designate a staff from the Directorate of Legal Affairs to handle the case, since the acting director, Muhumuza, expressed conflict of interest. 

This communication dated July 18, 2017 was made by Professor Ernest Okello Ogwang, the then acting Vice Chancellor to the University Secretary.  Subsequently, Charles Barugahare, then then University Secretary appointed Prossy Katongole Kyazze to handle the matter and also instructed the university external lawyers of M/S Kateera &Kagumire to handle.  

In November 2018, Makerere University constituted the cases against him for the appointments Board to decide. In a charge sheet drafted by Andrew Abunyang, the Director Human Resources of the University, Asiimwe was slapped with two charges of abscondment from duty and soliciting bribe.  

The University alleged that the 52-year-old Asiimwe, while employed as an Assistant Lecturer at the Law School solicited and obtained money from students in exchange for marks. He was later dismissed in the same year, during the mass sacking, a decision that he is challenging currently before the Tribunal.