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Court extends criminal summons against minister Kitutu over Shs 1.5bn loss

Minister for Karamoja Affairs Mary Gorreti Kitutu Kimono

Minister for Karamoja Affairs Mary Gorreti Kitutu Kimono

The Anti-Corruption court has extended criminal summons against Karamoja Affairs minister Mary Goretti Kitutu Kimono.

Kitutu is now required to appear in court on March 19 and be charged with causing government financial loss of Shs 1.5 billion. The summons which were initially issued last month, were today Thursday extended by the acting senior principal grade one magistrate Abert Asiimwe after Kitutu failed to show up on medical grounds.

The same court also extended summons for one of Kitutu's co-accused, Tracy Atuhirwe an accountant from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) after the prosecution's William Moses Ntumwa informed the court that although they extracted the summons, they have not been able to serve her.

It is alleged that between February and June 2022, while performing her duties as minister for Karamoja Affairs, Kitutu failed to conduct various peace-building activities in the Karamoja sub-region well knowing or having reason to believe that her omission would cause financial loss and that indeed, it allegedly caused loss of Shs 1,555,365,000 to the government of Uganda.

Kitutu is being charged together with Geoffrey Sseremba, secretary/accounting officer, Deogratius Masagazi, the undersecretary/head of department Pacification and Development Programme, Tracy Atuhirwe, an accountant, all are officials from the Office of the Prime Minister.

The summons followed last month's amendment of charges by the Inspectorate of Government against seven OPM officials dropping five of them and maintaining two including Sseremba and Masagazi who are now facing charges of corruption.

It is alleged that they authorized a total cash payment of Shs 2,230,291,000 to various staff within the OPM including Kitutu which they obtained for their own benefits after Atuhirwe failed to account for the money. When the matter came up today, Sseremba and Masagazi were in court but Kitutu and Atuhirwe were absent.

The prosecution informed the court that when Kitutu was issued with summons, she instead chose to challenge her prosecution and she was not successful. High court justice Jane Okuo Kajuga last week dismissed Kitutu's application seeking to set aside her trial in this case on the basis that it has no nexus/connection to the case in which she is accused of diverting more than 14,500 iron sheets that were meant for the vulnerable people of Karamoja.

Kitutu had argued before Kajuga that the Shs 1.5 billion case is arising from a similar set of transactions of Shs 39 billion supplementary budget that was intended to buy goats, iron sheets and other peace-building activities which was already investigated and charges instituted against her. But Kajuga declined to agree with her, paving the way for her prosecution in the case that came up today.

As such, state attorney Ntumwa told court that they expected Kitutu to appear and take plea. However, they received a letter from her lawyers at J Byamukama Advocates stating that she's sick and thus asked for an extension of summons to enable her to recover.

On his part, Jude Byamukama, Kitutu's lawyer told the magistrate that his client is suffering from high blood pressure. But he is hopeful that in a month or 45 days, she will be in a position to come and take a plea unless otherwise. Other accused persons protested the proposed long adjournment, saying that the case has now spent eight months without trial commencing which affects their right to a speedy hearing.

In his ruling, magistrate Asiimwe adjourned the case to March 19 after wishing Kitutu a quick recovery, saying court can only try a healthy person. He said although no man has control over sickness, he advised Kitutu's lawyers to make sure that she attends the next court session. 

Asiimwe then gave hope to Kitutu's co-accused who have been coming to court that when she takes plea, hearing will be expedited and it will not take longer for them to know their fate. He also directed the prosecution to prepare committal papers if the matter will be handled by the High court and inform his court on the next session.

Kitutu has since appealed against lady justice Kajuga's decision that okayed her prosecution in this separate case file from the iron sheets case. She argues that she is a minister whose role involves making policies but not doing technical work that is supposed to be done by the technocrats like accountants. Besides this, she says she has never requested funds to go to the field to conduct peace-building activities in Karamoja, says Kitutu.

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