Day 1/7: cue laughter in court


I was going to let the events of earlier today go by with just the tweets shared from my court experience, but then a group of tweeps threw the #UGBloggers7Days challenge my way and the literadrenaline was let loose.

Since I’m deeply involved in the case I can’t speak about the facts surrounding it, but today I was in the witness stand of a courtroom for the first time in my life, thanks to a lawsuit brought against MTN Uganda andSMS Media Uganda by former Mayor and almost-Minister Al-hajji Nasser Ntege Sebaggala.

Briefly, Sebaggala claims that the two made a ringtone out of his speech and have raked in billions of Uganda shillings, infringing on a copyright that belongs to him.

Legalities aside, why are we NOT spending more time hanging around court rooms for our general entertainment?

The curtain-raiser was seeing this massive maroon Uganda Prisons bus sidle alongside me and try to squeeze into the queue entering the commercial court, the way Kampala drivers tend to do as if the cars are just an extension of their bellies.

After realising that the bus wouldn’t fit, the driver drove on a little bit and parked by the side of the road to let the following alight:

BadBrown

It took me a couple of seconds to understand what I was seeing, and by that time she was walking right past me and all I could snap was:

20141014_085022

#BadBlack, I tweeted.

“Maybe #BadBrown!” someone replied.

Everyone at the Commercial Court was a comedian, for some reason – even the askaris who exchanged looks, comments and giggles as she walked past. In fact, #BadB herself was joking with that blouse matching her skin complexion.

The bus driver had started it all, though, having driven an entire damn bus all the way from Luzira just to drop this one prisoner with her guard.

Inside our court room, the opportunities for laughter were countless – even before we saw the playback of Seeya’s famous video recording (find that here or here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmJ7AzBQB7c).

I doffed my hat off to the judge for not guffawing out loud as most other people did throughout the day, even though his face broke up more often than not.

At one point I mentioned that I had offered Sebaggala’s team refreshments when they came to SMS Media offices, to which his lawyer responded, “…you say you gave them groceries…”

“No, my Lord, refreshments. NOT groceries!” I quickly corrected the fellow, lest the court record indicated that I had attempted to bribe Seeya with some shopping items…

Then, at another point the same lawyer asked, at a very unnecessary (to me) point: “The content was the same but the codes were different. By different, what do you mean? What do you mean they were different?”

“Er…they were not the same.”

“They were different?”

“Yes.”

“What do you mean?”

I turned to the judge for help, but realised I could try one more time with, “They were not the same.”

He appeared to finally get it.

Drawing to the end of an entertaining cross-examination, the second lawyer said quite distinctly at one point, “You claim you got the recording and created an altercation which you call a CRBT…”

“I did not!”

“Yes, you did. You made an altercation out of the recording!”

“Surely not an altercation, my Lord!” I interjected, again.

The lawyer, however, was off on a tangent and not to be interrupted, so he went on for a bit while the rest of us tried to work out what chaos the ringtone had caused, besides this outburst…

“…an alteration, you mean?”

He smiled.

As did everybody else in the room – including Seeya himself.

Would that all court appearances were this amusing; or that I were being paid to attend them…

out with lukwago; you could be next


Image
Lukwago’s new personalised number plates: ‘Frank Has Screwed Me’ (Photo thanks to The New Vision)

I bumped into Erias Lukwago’s offices purely by accident some months ago and made my way in to chit chat for a few minutes during which I was surprised by the astonishment on his face when I asked what he planned to do after being thrown out as Mayor of Kampala.

Quite flabbergasted, he asked back how that could happen, while repeating, “Abasajja b’andi bubi!” (They are really on my case!) and laugh-laughing in that manner that you always find it hard to associate with seriousness.

A few minutes later, the police arrived quite at random, led by District Police Commander James Ruhweza, to serve him with some notice or another regarding a rally he had planned – and I exited amidst an eruption of the obvious tiresome jokes to do with tear gas and whatnot.

Lukwago’s look of astonishment stayed on my mind because I had seen it before, most significantly when we were students at Makerere University and had just joined the Guild Representative Council, and some debate manoeuvre pulled the rug out from under his rambunctious feet.

Even back then he clowned a lot as a student politician, but he had the gab to get himself elected, and Lukwago is no fool; today he has Parliamentary Membership and Mayorship of the capital city of Uganda on his CV, so he is ‘serious’.

And whereas he is down, he might not be out; but this is not about politics; and neither am I going to dissect the law.

Lukwago’s fate could have befallen any Ugandan in politics, corporate management, private business, or even in private.

And while the politicians discuss this with three-letter party lenses and analyse the colour of the report bindings, and the shawls of Justice Catherine Bamugemereire and neckties of Minister Frank Tumwebaze during the months of the tribunal, we have to acknowledge what this really says about us.

First of all, whenever anyone accosts you to discuss the report and its fairness or skewed nature, test to see whether they have read it – mostly, you will find peace in their silence.

Yesterday afternoon I tweeted part of it under #Lukwago and parried the usual statements from people who will probably never read the Tribunal report; just as Lukwago himself appeared not to have read the KCCA Act before embarking on his campaign for Mayorship or assumption of the seat.

Or maybe they had read it, but felt that if they argued enough they would simply wish away what it said along with months of witness statements, tendered evidence and even cross-examinations of the protagonist himself; just as Lukwago seemed to believe that press conferences and palaver would get rid of the basic facts that the Tribunal stuck to.

Basically, the Tribunal “found that the three grounds of Abuse of Office, Incompetence, and Misconduct/Misbehaviour were proved…”

The evidence in the Tribunal Report’s summary is damning enough on its own but reads like stuff that happens in any other government office, private company or even domestic arrangement:

– The letter he wrote inciting the public against paying taxes proved abuse of office.
– Recalling and replacing representatives to Makerere University and Mulago Nursing School without the approval of the KCCA, abuse of office.
– Failure or refusal to convene meetings where he was required to, Abuse of Office.
– Failure to establish or renew Standing Committees, Incompetence.
– Failure to cause Committee reports to be presented to KCCA, Incompetence.
– Failure to sign minutes, Incompetence.
– Attacks on KCCA staff using the Auditor General’s report, Misconduct.
– Disregard of Ministerial directives, Misconduct.

These bullet points, slightly edited, could get most company directors thrown out of office if somebody did a serious check, and I don’t know how many other government offices would measure up to a spot-check of files to ascertain whether minutes are signed or meetings are even held as stipulated.

Just yesterday morning a group of us, entrepreneurs, were discussing these weaknesses amongst ourselves:
– Many seem to abhor proper governance; they don’t contract work with seriousness, nor do they follow full invoicing and accounting procedures, if any. They don’t read contracts or terms of reference, and sometimes just don’t even read…or think. Most private companies are run whimsically with a semblance of order that is just that – a semblance – but so are many government departments, and even some of the BIG companies that thrive on momentum and our having little option but to use their products and services, plus our lethargy towards change.
– Many business leaders abuse office daily – influencing job appointments, ruling like monarchs rather than leading, using fear as a tool like the slave driver’s whip rather than the motivation of reward. There is no need to look to any government office for senior officials using cars for private use or office imprest to take their wives (polite, you know who I mean there) out to lunch; they’re the same number of private businessmen that use company money in this way, regardless of what the shareholders say.
– Shareholders? How many Ugandan companies make a distinction between shareholders and management, or have Boards of Directors? Or have meetings of the Board, with minutes signed and registered and actions endorsed and followed up? What about the government parastatals and ministries?

The list goes on, and on, and if Lukwago’s provides any learnings for us we should only hope that these learnings are taken down in notebooks and implemented rather than picked up by the Registrar of Companies, and other arms of the government that could cause nationwide administrative mayhem by checking to see how many of us call meetings when we should, take minutes and then sign them.

It would certainly help change Uganda if this did happen and we were forced to get organised, because it has changed Kampala.

Jennifer Musisi is not an NRM party functionary as far as I know, even though many people say Lukwago’s woes are just political. Musisi and her KCCA are just organised – a simple walk through the corridors of City Hall and the absence of people selling chapatis and kabalagala near the lifts is a good indicator.

But more seriously, the changes are evident seen from above, and they seem to have permeated ‘to the grassroots’ of Kampala. Today, the so-called downtrodden masses did not riot. I drove through Kisekka market on my way from a school run while tweeting the #Lukwago ruling and didn’t even look up to check whether anybody was angry.

A few weeks ago someone told me that those women you see sweeping the Kampala roads so dedicatedly in the mornings cost KCCA about Ushs600million monthly, but they are working happily earning a few hundred thousand shillings each. In the previous city administration, this person said, road-sweeping was a contract that went to one supplier who billed the City almost Ushs2billion and employed a few people who earned less than Ushs100,000 each.

And I never saw any of them, nor did I see their work, under Ssebagala or John Kizito Sebaana.

Unverified, but if it’s true, I can see where the support for the likes of Lukwago went.

The people who had spread Nakasero Market onto the road and forced car users onto the one lane on the Kiyembe side weren’t happy about being reigned in, but when they saw the market expansion plans they shut up about it and are now waiting to be like Wandegeya Market vendors.

Lukwago?

Sseeya Nasser Ssebaggala, the originator of the lumpenproletariat-turned-lumpenpolitick, also left those tactics long ago – some say he was chucked but the reality seems to be very different.

In 2011 Museveni & the NRM got 46.08% of the vote, a close second to Besigye and FDCs 46.86%, where in 2006 Museveni and the NRM had won 39.5% and Besigye and FDC 56.7%.

But like I said, I’m not going into the politics – even though it was certainly the motivation and a surefire objective.

Right now, Lukwago is down but not necessarily out.

There might still be many people who will vote for him to return as Mayor; plus, his chambers, on Media House along Kiira Road, which he shares with MP Medard Ssegona, are still open. Of course many people might think twice before hiring him as their lawyer, in case he doesn’t cross some t’s or dot i’s and makes them lose their cases.

But he will still have clients, so even if he doesn’t win back the Mayorship, he might bounce back as a big time lawyer – not as big-time as Kiryowa Kiwanuka, his former classmate and now nemesis, but big-time all the same.

Nevertheless  Lukwago has been brought down using:
– Abuse of Office
– Incompetence
– Misconduct

All these were of his making, just as any other average Ugandan in his or her job is currently sitting lacklustre and doing nothing but trusting that a well-delivered excuse, or highly-connected relative will save them should anybody look into their work.

It is almost amazing that a man with a University education and such experience can neglect to sign meeting minutes, ignore the basic rules of governance as spelled out in law, in a way that can be used to whip him out of a job, but it is a reality that could have befallen any of you fellows out there being average or lousy Ugandans.

So we should check ourselves – lest someone petitions and comes for us in our offices…