UNRA 'spent' Shs 15.5bn in legal fees in 3 years

UNRA executive director Allen Kagina 

Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) spent over Shs 15.5bn on private law firms in the last three years, URN has learnt.

The payments were made between 2012 and 2015 to sixteen law firms as professional fees for defending the authority in a number of court cases. Some of the documents seen by URN also show over-payment by UNRA to some of the law firms contrary to the invoiced amounts.

Some of the law firms that benefited from the payments are Sebalu & Lule Advocates, Kalenge, Bwanika Ssawa Advocates, Kateera & Kagumire Advocates, Ligomarc Advocates, Kampala Associated Advocates, Synergy Solicitors & Advocates (EnsAfrica), Bitangaro & Co Advocates, KAM Advocates & Solicitors and others.

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Others include Kasekende Kyeyune & Lutaaya Advocates, Kiwanuka & Karugire Advocates, Tibeingana & Co Advocates, Karuhanga Tabaro Associates, Tusasirwe & Co Advocates, The Marble Law firm, Agaba Muhairwe & Co Advocates and EnsAfrica Advocates.

One of the law firms that were overpaid according to the documents is; Sebalu & Lule Advocates, which received Shs 487m in 2012 contrary to the invoiced Shs 400m.
 
The money was paid in respect of a case between Abaker Otim & 276 others Vs UNRA & 2 others in a High court civil suit 55 of 2012. Kampala Associated Advocates also received Shs 631.6m from UNRA instead of Shs 35.4m as invoiced by the law firm in case between Byaruhanga Daniel Vs Eng James Byandala, Angella Kiryabwire & UNRA. 
 
In his 2015 audit report, the Auditor General John Muwanga cited inappropriate expenditure on law firms. He noted that Shs 254m was paid to a law firm as legal fees for a case in which a developer sued UNRA for failure to give him final advice on whether to halt or continue building a commercial house on plot No 587, Block 438 at Nkumba due to the on-going road works.
 
The developer had inquired from UNRA whether his commercial building would be affected by the road construction but UNRA did not respond prompting him sue the authority. The AG notes that this expenditure could have been avoided if UNRA had given appropriate advice and acted promptly.

As a result, the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) has launched investigations into the payments made to the law firms. Abdu Katuntu, the COSASE chairperson directed a team of UNRA officials led by their executive director, Allen Kagina to submit detailed information on transactions and instructions to private law firms, saying that they want to ensure that there was no fraudulently stolen through the law firms.
 
“We need to have a full list of all the law firms that were being engaged by UNRA, all. From the period 2012-13 to 2014-15, full list! We also require you to give a detailed instructions to these law firms, the scope of the work they were doing – case by case. We would require also the amount invoiced by these law firms – cases by case. We would also require how much money was paid because we see some obscenities in the payments of legal fees”, Katuntu said.

Kagina and her team were appearing before the committee today to answer audit queries by the Auditor General from the 2012 to 2015.  She was accompanied by UNRA legal director, Mary Kuteesa Kamuli, director of procurement, Mathias Ofumbi, director of road maintenance Joseph Otim, human resource manager Jennipher Kaggwa and director of planning Isaac Wani among others.
 
Ofumbi told the committee that UNRA picked the sixteen law firms from a list of pre-qualified lawyers by the solicitor general.

 “The process of getting a pre-qualification list is in a three-way. The first is; you can pre-qualify as an entity and you get the list. The second one, you can obtain a list from PPDA [Public Procurement And Disposal of Public Assets Authority] which is the authority.

The third one is; you can get it from any other government entity. UNRA chose to use the list pre-qualified by the solicitor general. The information I found was that they decided to use the list of solicitor general because [he] had better competences to qualify them at that time and therefore the list which they had was quite robust”, Ofumbi submitted.

However, Budadiri West MP Nathan Nandala Mafabi questioned how UNRA arrived at the sixteen law firms and left out others.
 
“I want to agree the solicitor general had the list of all firms which qualified. How [then] did you choose ‘Tumwesige and Company’ and chose those [other] 15. Is it possible that you can give me a few of them? Because they must be having names in order to get cash”, Mafabi said.

UNRA legal director Mary Kuteesa Kamuli promised to avail details of the private law firms that were used by the authority in the past, saying that since 2015, UNRA legal directorate handles all legal matters in-house.
 
“True, yes UNRA was using private lawyers. All the cases that were coming [and] were being handled by UNRA, they were using private lawyers from the time of inception up to November 1, 2015”, she said.

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