CHOGM SAGA: Ambassador Onen Survives Arrest

Ambassador Julius Onen

FORMER FOREIGN Affairs Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Julius Onen, Monday morning survived being arrested for being too defensive of ministers; Sam Kutesa, John Nasasira and Mwesigwa Rukutana. Onen who left the ministry in the wake of the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting preparations, admitted having prepared and endorsed the preamble to the contract between Munyonyo Common Wealth Resort Ltd and government, stating that the three ministers committed government to footing the bills of construction.

He however changed this position during cross-examination by the ministers’ lawyers stating that no decision was taken as all meetings were just consultative, forcing the prosecutor, Sydney Asubo to ask him to read a paragraph in his preamble.

“The cabinet subcommittee decided………” he read and before he completed the sentence, Asubo posed and asked him to confirm whether he still maintains his earlier assertion that no decision was taken. “I still want to re-state that there was no decision taken during the Cabinet subcommittee meeting of December 17, 2005 at Munyonyo,” he stated.

“Now you claim  there was no decision yet in the preamble you claim the committee decided; which is which?” a charged Asubo probed further but the composed Onen maintained that the Kutesas didn’t take any decision. Asubo directed tough questions at Onen which prompted trial judge, Justice Paul Mugamba to interject stating “the witness has stated his position and it has already gone on record that there was no decision”. The seemingly disappointed Asubo[IGG’s attorney] reacted: “Court cannot stop the prosecution from leading a witness to be clear. I pray that that decision is overturned,” Asubo submitted.

Justice Mugamba nonetheless shunned Asubo’s submissions as he ruled that “a ruling is a ruling, you can appeal it later.” The relentless Asubo applied for a short adjournment, but Justice Mugamba out rightly stated: “I am not granting the adjournment.” The Ministers; Kutesa of Foreign Affairs, John Nasasira Minister for General Duties in the Office of the Prime Minister also former Minister for Works and Transport and Mwesigwa Rukutana, State Minister for Gender, also former Minister of State for Finance, Planning and Economic Development, are alleged to have caused Shs14bn government loss and abused their respective offices.

This was after they held a cabinet sub-committee meeting at Munyonyo at which the three allegedly committed government to footing the bills for the construction of the Marina, parking yard and driveways at Commonwealth Resort Hotel owned by city mogul Sudhir Ruparelia. Onen confirmed to court that the said the meeting was held on Saturday December 17, 2005 which is not a working day for civil servants.

He was however quick to clarify that Saturday in itself was not irregular because the Foreign Affairs Ministry in whose docket CHOGM fell works 24 hours. He further testified that the ministers did nothing wrong since they had the mandate of the Cabinet sub-committee to hold that meeting because it had sat earlier and directed that Kutesa visits the venue and ascertains whether Munyonyo befitted Commonwealth standard.

The second witness Eng. Samson Bagonza who was the Works Ministry chief Engineer contradicted Onen’s earlier assertions that there was no recording of minutes during that Saturday meeting. “I recorded the minutes because the then PS (Onen) asked me to,” he said, clarifying that according to the civil service procedure, if there is a meeting and there is no secretary to record the minutes, the most junior person at the meeting records and he (Bagonza) was the most junior.

He also agreed that government was not committed at any meeting held by the ministers to foot the bill for the construction and further agreed with defence lawyer, Oskar Kambona that the Munyonyo meeting did not sit as a cabinet sub-committee since it was attended by Sudhir. “It was just a consultative meeting and whatever was discussed was subject to revision by the technical team composed of technocrats from all concerned government departments and ministries,” Bagonza said.

It should be noted however that Eng. Bagonza who is on bail pending appeal arising from the CHOGM saga, reckoned on the fact that the President was concerned with the government shares of Munyonyo thereby directing the sector ministers to handle the matter together with Sudhir. According to the IGG, the ministers were irregular by paying the whole expenditure of improving and rehabilitating the five-star hotel without the contribution of the other share holder, Sudhir, hence the loss of Shs14bn.

On a related note, John Nasasira who is a co-accused in this scandal seemed not to grasp the proceeding as he was overheard by the snoop after court session inquiring from Edwin Karugire and Sam Kutesa, thus: “Omushango mwagureeba muta nimwe ba rooya” loosely translated “You guys are lawyers, how have you understood this case.” Kuteesa and Karugire laughed off stating that “the case is fine and according to these witness there is no merit in it”. The hearing continues today.

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