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The expensive haul to electoral justice

An election petition hearing proceeding in Fort Portal High Court (Source Kasese Guide Radio)

High Courts across the country have commenced the long-awaited hearing of over 104 election petitions from the just-concluded January polls. While the fate of some politicians still lies in balance, others have been dismissed by the courts of law already with costs whereas some of the petitioners have resolved to withdraw the cases.

Of those that have withdrawn their petitions so far include; Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Vice President for Eastern Uganda, Proscovia Salaamu Musumba. She last Thursday withdrew the election petition that she had filed before the Jinja High Court against Kamuli woman MP, Rebecca Kadaga citing irregularities in the 2021 election. 

Musumba explained that her withdrawal was based on endless threats targeted at her key witnesses and her desire to focus more on developmental matters aimed at improving the livelihoods of Kamuli residents. 

Still in Jinja High Court, Mohammed Bidondole- former Jinja North constituency candidate also withdrew a petition he had filed against the area MP David Isabirye. Meanwhile, in Fort portal, former Bunyangabu County MP contestant, Murungi Patrick withdrew an election petition filed against his opponent, NRM’s Davis Kamukama. Mr. Murungi’s lawyers explained that the petitioner had simply lost interest in the case. 

However, according to Dr. Miria Matembe, former Ethics, and Integrity Minister, she believes that the real reason petitioners are withdrawing the cases is that some of them are being bribed out. She made these statements last Thursday on NBS Live@9. Matembe further explained that those who had been petitioned were offering enormous sums of money to petitioners to abandon the cases. She stated that it is difficult for them to deny the money especially after they had been financially bruised by the election early this year. 

SecretsKnown is aware that both petitioners and those petitioned against have heavy costs to incur in terms of legal fees. In an interview with a prestigious law firm in Kampala, SecretsKnown learned that for an election petition for LCV, each party may on average have to spend UGX 10million ($2,829) to UGX 20 million ($5,657) whereas for MP, UGX 30 million ($8,486) to UGX 50 million ($14,143) in order to be professionally represented in the courts of law. This fee is broken down to include instruction fees, labor, court attendance, filing as well as disbursements (transport and accommodation for the lawyer). Both parties also have to facilitate eyewitnesses and gather evidence which can be very costly. 

According to the Advocates (remuneration and taxation of costs) regulations 2018, some law firms charge up to UGX 500,000 per hour of litigation. With the lengthiness in conclusion of election petitions, law firms will be minting millions from politicians.

In some instances, cases are dismissed with costs leaving the petitioner financially overwhelmed. For example today the High Court in Lira today has dismissed with cost an election petition filed against Linda Agnes Auma, the Lira District Woman MP. In the petition against Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, her lawyer Caleb Alaka stated that,

“Musumba wasted the court’s time and it is just prudent that she pays costs worthy the quality of lawyers who were hired to rebuttal the contents of the petition.”

SecretsKnown previously documented a story on Apollo Kantinti, former Kyadondo East Member of Parliament- “From parliament to prison – The ugly side of commercialized politics” His term as MP lasted only eight months because the High court overturned his election in 2017. 

Kantinti appealed and lost against this decision by the High Court judgment following a petition filed by his challenger Mike Sebalu. The court awarded costs against Kantinti which he failed to pay and was incarcerated in July 2019. The total costs that he failed to pay were UGX108 million ($30,000).

Due to the fear of hefty costs that come after case dismissal and arrests in case of failure to pay, many petitioners are discouraged and opt-out of seeking electoral justice despite the quite convincing evidence they may have. 

This Monday, NBS live@9 Featured Hon.Brenda Nabukenya the Luweero Woman MP who stated that contestants should get ready to incur huge costs in the election petitions directing them to prepare their wallets. Hon. Nabukenya and others who have been through these electoral petitions have warned petitioners to brace for a rough ride saying the road to electoral justice is a costly one. 

Hon. Nabukenya who in 2016 filed a petition seeking for nullification of Lillian Nakatte’s victory on grounds that elections were not conducted in a fair manner confessed to having spent a total of UGX 150 million ($42,428) on the petition alone. She added that the process is very time-consuming and mentally draining.  

SecretsKnown predicts that Ugandans are yet to witness more election petitions withdrawals by petitioners from the courts of law. Even though these withdrawals may be attributed to intimidation, bribery, and maybe state influence, the heavy costs involved in the pursuit of Electoral justice are a major factor. 

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