The High Court in Kampala has ordered Makerere University to pay shs200 million to a deputy registrar who was in 2017 suspended for charging money from graduands and guests for keeping their phones and other gadgets.
In 2017, Margaret L. Etuusa, the deputy academic registrar was suspended by the acting Vice-Chancellor, Prof Okello Ogwang over an award of a contract of handling phones and other gadgets during that year’s graduation ceremony.
.It was that parents and students who had carried phones were required to pay between sh3000 and sh5000 for each phone to be kept by a company since such gadgets were not allowed at the graduation venue.
The university claimed that Etuusa flouted the PPDA provisions and vested yourself with the powers of the Contracts Committee with such a mandate putting the university in a bad light.
Following her suspension, the deputy registrar dragged the university and three other administrators to court.
On Wednesday, Justice Lydia Mugambe ruled that whereas Etuusa explained herself, she was not fairly heard by the university.
She said that whereas on March 17, 2017, Etuusa was invited by the chairman of the investigation committee for interaction, at the meeting, she was not allowed to speak and wondered why Alfred Masikye Namoah, the University Academic Registrar didn’t give her a chance to put in writing her defence.
“The university secretary appears to have been the first to formally write detailing the accusations against the applicant(Etuusa) and requiring an explanation. He wrote to the third respondent (Masikye). This was after the applicant had made her initial informal explanation to the third respondent. There is no demonstration at all that on receipt of the formal accusation from the secretary, the third respondent referred back to the applicant for specific responses to the allegations,” the judge ruled.
“Instead, the third respondent appears to have forwarded the Applicant’s initial communication to himself. This was irregular in the circumstances of this case.”
Justice Mugambe said the university secretary or the Academic Registrar on receipt of a request to have Etuusa explain herself on the claims against her, a thing she said was not done.
“There is no satisfactory demonstration from any of the respondents that this was done. This was a breach of the applicant’s right to be heard. There is also no demonstration that the applicant properly appeared before any authority where she competently presented her defence and was properly represented before the suspension decision or the decision to refer her for disciplinary action. The right to be heard is so central to justice,” she noted.
The judge said that it appears that Dr.Tanga Odoi who was by then still at the university was the invisible hand that orchestrated the accusations against the deputy registrar for his selfish interests and this was followed through the secretary, the Academic Registrar and finally a suspension letter to Etuusa.
“It is hard for me to consider therefore that the suspension and disciplinary action against the applicant, in this case, was done fairly, irrationally and objectively. Rather, I am inclined to consider and I am convinced that it was a malicious scheme orchestrated by the fourth respondent (Tanga Odoi). I cannot, therefore, consider that it was done in good faith.”
The judge also pointed out that there is an exhibited trend of public officers at Makerere University using their offices recklessly and maliciously in handling public affairs.
“I also wish to point out that there is exhibited, a trend of public officers in the first Respondent institution using their public offices recklessly and maliciously as if they are managing the business in backyards in their homesteads with total disregard to established principles of law and procedure. This conduct at the first respondent (Makerere University) must be stopped in its tracks.”
The judge ordered that the March 2017 suspension is quashed and Etuusa reinstated pending a case against her in the Anti-Corruption Court.
The judge also directed that shs200 million be awarded to her and is to be paid by Makerere University as general damages for being suspended illegally and a 10% per annum interest from the date of ruling until payment in full.