By Amon Baita
Compulsory vehicle inspections are expected to continue uninterrupted after the deputy Attorney General (AG) defended the contract between the government of Uganda and Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS), dismissing reports that there was fraud involved for the latter to secure the contract to carry out vehicle inspection exercises.
The vehicle inspection exercise is carried out under “Safe Drive Uganda” – a road safety measure intended to ensure vehicle roadworthiness and reduce carnage on Ugandan roads.
This mandatory exercise is aimed at improving road safety by compelling motor vehicle owners and drivers to use safe and well-maintained vehicles.
However, the contract has since drawn controversy, prompting government to subject it to a probe by legislators on the Physical Infrastructure committee, citing exorbitant charges on vehicle owners and bribing of some officials in government to seal the deal.
Two reports were later released, with majority lawmakers backing the contract, while the minority rooted for its cancellation.
Addressing lawmakers on Wednesday, the Deputy AG Mwesigwa Rukutana said that after examining the SGS contract as well as majority and minority reports, he didn’t find any substantial justification to cancel the contract.
Rukutana said the allegations alluded to by the Minority report are ungrounded, arguing that they lack evidence to warrant cancellation of the contract.
The Minority report pointed out bribery incidences where officials from the Ministry of Works benefitted from an expense paid trip from November 7-12, 2016 to South Africa.
Speaking on that, Rukutana asserted that these trips do not imply that it was an intended bribe to ministry officials to throw their weight behind SGS to secure the contract.
“By any stretch of imagination, we couldn’t get evidence connecting the alleged trips to South Africa,” he said.
Rukutana further dismissed claims of conflict of interest by Denis Sabiiti, who led the contract Committee during negotiations of the contract, but resigned from the Ministry and was later hired as consultant by SGS, saying since he had resigned from the Ministry, he was free to work anywhere.
“Whether the allegations are true or not, we didn’t find any justification to impute fraud on the part of SGS. If Sabiiti had resigned his office at the Ministry, he was free to go anywhere including at SGS, in any case, the alleged crime was tasked at the conclusion of the contract,” he said.
The Minority report also alleged that SGS failed to pay the concession fees as per contract, arguing that payment wasn’t adhered to.
However, Rukutana said both reports acknowledge that payments were made but late and money received by the Ministry of Works.
“The basis to terminate delayed payment was waived by the Ministry of Works, that ground is therefore no longer available in the Ministry of Works and therefore to Government because the money was received albeit late. So we can’t rely on that as basis for termination of the contract,” he said.
On recommendations that SGS contract be cancelled on grounds that it was void given that the contract wasn’t drawn by the Attorney General, Rukutana said this isn’t a strong ground to have the contract cancelled.
He revealed that the contract was drawn by the Ministry of Works and cleared by the Solicitor General and was therefore valid.
“The practice is, the Attorney General doesn’t draw all agreements, the officials from the Attorney General’s chambers may participate in negotiations of agreements, but the line Ministries draw the agreements and subject them to the scrutiny and clearance of the Attorney whose role is to ensure that the constitution doesn’t infringe on any other provisions of the laws of the land,” he argued.
SGS currently has 7 stations around the country: Kawanda, Nabbingo, Namanve, Namulanda, Gulu, Mbale and Mbarara.