MPs Question Legal Costs On Oil Cases

2692 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
Members of Parliament on the legal and parliamentary affairs committee have expressed dissatisfaction in the submission made by both Ministry of Justice and Uganda Revenue Authority regarding the costs of the oil cases. The submission came after the MPs demanded a breakdown of the costs after the ministry presented a supplementary request of over 10 billion shillings for the Uganda-Heritage case in London early this year.

Members of Parliament on the legal and parliamentary affairs committee have expressed dissatisfaction in the submission made by both Ministry of Justice and Uganda Revenue Authority regarding the costs of the oil cases.
 
The submission came after the MPs demanded a breakdown of the costs after the ministry presented a supplementary request of over 10 billion shillings for the Uganda-Heritage case in London early this year.  The MPs led by Shadow Attorney General Abdu Katuntu and Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba then argued that the costs almost equalled the money at stake something they said doesn’t make sense.
 
The MPs questioned the number of experts hired by government in these cases and the cost at which they are hired. Oyam North MP Chrispus Ayena and his Ajuri counterpart Hamson Obua asked the ministry team to explain if it is standard practice that only foreign experts can represent Uganda in arbitration, asking why able Ugandans in the legal sector are not entrusted with the task.
 
Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi said that government hired expatriates for these cases because it needs effective representation given the complexity of the case. Christopher Gashiraki who represented the Solicitor General also added that Ugandan lawyers couldn’t handle matters of that nature since they lack exposure in arbitration matters.
 
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Niwagaba wonders what is complex about the Uganda-Heritage case that warrants government spending billions of money adding that there is nothing complex about a matter that is about only two closes of an agreement. He said that on top of unnecessarily expensive international experts, government has a big team on each of the cases. He asked why on top of the expensive international experts Uganda has a team of about 30 people on the case.
 
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The MPs also grilled Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) on the same issue. The legislators demanded to know why URA needs international experts to advise them on Ugandan laws. Niwagaba pointed out in their submission that some of these experts who are paid hourly were claiming to work 16 hours a day.
 
According to their submissions some of these experts are paid 747 US dollars per hour. Niwagaba demanded that the URA delegation explains how these experts work for 16 hours and what exactly was their output.
 
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The team which was led by assistant commissioner for litigation Ali Sekatawa, however, failed to answer the question satisfactorily but said that the experts were only advising the Ugandan side but not representing in court. Sekatawa also justified the legal costs saying that the money at stake is enormous. He said that Uganda stands to get up to one billion US dollars if it won all the cases in the oil sector.
 
Government is currently battling five cases with the oil companies which include the case against Heritage in arbitration court, two cases against Tullow in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington on VAT and Capital Gains Tax and the Tullow VAT case in the High Court.
 
Uganda has already spent about 12 billion shillings on the Uganda-Heritage arbitration alone.