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Oil bonanza probe: officials claim they worked long hours, have ‘special’ skills

Three senior officials from the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs said this week they were entitled to a “presidential handshake” because they worked late and had special skills.

Appearing before the parliamentary committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) on Tuesday, Francis Atoke, the solicitor general; Harriet Lwabi, director of legislative drafting; and Christopher Gashirabake, the director of legal advisory services, boasted of the extra duties and time they devoted towards the case.

Solicitor general Francis Atoke

Atoke, who was Uganda’s lead counsel during the tax arbitration case against Heritage Oil and Gas, told the MPs that his role was to supervise the team in Uganda and London, prepare and peruse through key documents including Heritage’s claims and government’s statement of defence in court.

Asked whether this is not part of his usual work, Atoke said it was only that this time he worked longer hours.

“We did extraordinary work because I don’t remember any time in London that I went to bed before 3am trying to do research. I did work beyond the time of eight hours which the standing orders provide for and we achieved our goal,” he said.

Atoke received a bonus of Shs 200 million. He further stated that this was a landmark case which brought in $434 million to the government coffers.

Harriet Lwabi received Shs 200 million

Lwabi, who received Shs 200 million, said she attended all meetings and hearings in London and contributed through participating in document production and pre-hearing conference calls.

She said also sometimes chaired meetings of the government team and assisted with preparing both expert and factual witness statements. To accomplish all this, she said, she had to work beyond the normal working hours.

“In my entire life at the justice ministry, I have not participated in an international arbitration that spanned a duration of four years...this assignment was beyond my normal scope of duties and took a disproportionate amount of time and we would work extra hours over the weekend to ensure that we had timely responses to external legal counsel when they were due,” Lwabi said.

However, MPs Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri) and Fred Turyamuhweza (Rujumbura) dismissed their explanations, stating that they received money to execute their ordinary roles.

Moses Kasibante (Lubaga North) said the roles that Atoke and Lwabi did should have been left to the external lawyers, since the lawyers had been paid over $10 million by taxpayers to defend government.

DRAMA

Later, Gashirabake lost his cool after Kasibante deemed the extra hours he worked on the case as being part of his normal terms of reference. With a scowl on his face, Gashirabake said the MP should not trivialize the time he spent.

“The time I was spending up to midnight, I was not idle. I was reviewing and researching documents, and communicating with people. I don’t work up to midnight and you don’t see me in office on weekends but on this particular case, I was a regular attendant on Sundays,” he asserted.

The committee directed the solicitor general to provide the committee with documents on the final award, as well as minutes of the meetings convened on the case in London and Uganda.

The committee is scheduled to meet Irene Mulyagonja, the inspector general of government (IGG), today (Friday).

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