Opinion: Apparently, a bribe isn’t a bribe according to High Court Justice Bashaija

Presidential Handshake: “A letter from the President that designate unsolicited funds to civil servants as areward” or as a “handshake”, which by some is deemed as an “error of judgement”, but not defined as a bribe. Even if it looks like a bribe and smells like a bribe” (Minbane – ‘Presidential Handshake’ Definition, 2020).

I don’t know what goes through some people’s mind, I don’t if Kampala High Court Justice Andrew Bashaija is trying to be the devils advocate or something. But the news in the Independent Magazine on the Saturday 15th February 2020 titled: “Court clears ‘presidential handshake’ beneficiaries”. Where the article states this about the judgement made on the Friday 14th February 2020: “Justice Andrew Basahaija ruled on Friday that the recommendations of the committee were illegal and said the orders of the committee “be removed from public orders and should not be implemented.” He said he didn’t find anything wrong with the officials who received the money” (Independent Magazine, 16.02.2020).

We can really see that a Justice, a man who judges on the basis of the law are able to make it legal to steal, thieving and directly eat out of the state coffers without any consequence. Instead throwing the book at the ones doing oversight of the state, the MPs and the COSASE Committee who worked on the case and looked into the shady 6 billion shillings “Presidential Handshake”. Clearly, the state has its benefactors, maybe even the Justice is awaiting his handshake in the future. Because something is up, when your making these sort of deals legal.

It’s like this part of the COSASE report was dismissed without merit:

As a follow up to the H.E. the President’s letter of 16th November, 2015, the Commissioner General of URA wrote to the Permanent Secretary/Secretary to Treasury (PS/TS) in a letter dated 11th December, 2015 (App. B6) requesting him to formally designate her as accounting Officer through whom the reward would be paid and to formally requisition for the UGX 6,000,000,000 (Uganda Shillings Six Billions Only)” (…) “The Commissioner General, as advised and in a letter dated 5th May 2016 (App. B8) sought authority from the Hon. Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development to reallocate UGX. 6 Billion (Uganda Shillings Six Billion Only) from URA Tax Refund Account to URA Expenditure Account so that the 42 Public Officers could be paid and suggested that a supplementary to URA for that amount to be considered and handled by the Hon. Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. The Hon. Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development did not grant this authority. However, by letter dated 19th October, 2016 (App. B10) he requested the Auditor General to issue an audit warrant for UGX 6 Billion” (COSASE, P: 10-11, 2017).

It’s like the whole deal is left in the wind by the Justice himself. That this sought of transaction is okay, as long as the President write letters directing it. Even if it was never budgeted from, never was part of state functions and this was an direct pay-off, as the Public Officers was a part of tax battle with Tullow Oil. This case amounted in a tax victory for the state, but not for the civil servants. That’s why this “Presidential Handshake” is a bribe and envelopes given without protocol.

Like the Justice is saying COSASE report and recommendations should be implemented. With saying that it wasn’t legal what the culprits at Uganda Revenue Authority was doing, neither the President, but instead putting the blame on the people writing the report. Which is again fun-fan fiction of political science and governance. As you are again targeting the messengers and not the ones actually talking. Your aiming your guns at the ones reporting the ordeal, not the ones actually doing it. That is what the Justice is in this point is doing.

So, the state can live in denial, because the old man with the hat is directing it. That doesn’t make it illegal. But surely, if a small local councillor did this to his fellow employees. He would be meeting the State House – Anti Corruption Unit in a hot minute. But he didn’t have the blessing of the “high above” from the same State House. That is the pin-point, that makes a difference between what is legal and what is illegal.

If the King did the decree or not. If he hasn’t signed off on it, its illegal and if he does sign-off on it; then it’s legal. That is the golden rule in the Republic or the legal term of a “Presidential Handshake”.

When the state can make internal thieving legal, what else could they do with their power? I don’t want to know, but I am sure its more sinister than a 6bn shillings handshake. Peace.

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