President Yoweri Museveni’s directive to Chief Justice Alfonse Owinyi-Dollo to review a court decision allowing the auctioning of Muslim properties has drawn mixed reactions.
In a letter dated December 7, written to Owinyi-Dollo, Museveni said he was taken aback by the decision of the court to allow for the sale of Muslim properties including the National Mosque because of a mistake committed by individuals.
“I was most surprised to read in Mufti Mubajje’s letter that among the Moslem properties to be affected is the National Mosque at Old Kampala!! Really!! What sane person, let alone a Judge can make such orders? How can a Mosque or Church be attached for debts carelessly entered into by officials of that faith? If there is no law protecting Institutions of Worship, then common sense is there. I, therefore, request you to review this matter yourself and see how to restore sanity,” he said.
“His Eminence Mubaje alleges other examples of misconduct and collusion. You should study all those. What, however, provoked me was the audacity of attaching the National Mosque. The NRM freedom fighters and the government they head, cannot be associated with sick logic,” Museveni’s letter adds.
The decision on Thursday drew nationwide reactions on social media, with many accusing the President of undermining the independence of the Judiciary as an arm of government.
However, others wondered how the courts could allow the auctioning of a national mosque.
Mr Ivan Bwowe, a lawyer and former Makerere University Guild President, said the President should have allowed the legal process to take its course.
“This open letter to the CJ literally shows that the Judiciary has failed. The President should have used another arrangement,” he said.
Former Kizza Besigye aide Sam Mugumya posted: “On 27th September 2021, the Chief Justice Owinyi Dollo made a statement to the effect that the president has the final say in certain court decisions, “You have the final say in certain court decisions. Many people don’t know that. The president is the last appellate court.”
But Masaka Resident City Commissioner Hudu Hussein lauded the President for the move.
“Anyone unhappy with Kaguta Museveni over this letter to the Chief Justice and his criticism of the court order has not appreciated the law. All he is saying is the courts of law should use their activism to protect some things like churches and mosques even if its not in the common law. Judicial activism is not new,” he said.
William Kwebeiha tweeted: He is perfectly correct. You can not attach a government school/university, government hospital, Church, Mosque to settle a debt.
Julius Ssendijja said: “Saving a mosque,a common user facility to Muslims, from being attached because of loans, whether by President Museveni, or any other person, is commendable, and should be applauded. But this should be a lesson, reasonable stakeholders, religious leaders must avoid unreliable deals, yes.”
Zubair Kanye said: “It’s okay for him to do so just that the choice of words he used were a direct attack on the Judiciary and such waters a way principle of judicial independence. He should have done so with guidance and respect for the constitutional limits set up between the arms of government.”
On Thursday, the Court of Appeal in Kampala temporarily stopped businessman Justus Kyabahwa from auctioning prime Uganda Muslim Supreme Council property.
The panel of three justices including Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera, Geoffrey Kiryabwire, and Irene Mulyagonja, delivered the verdict in response to UMSC’s application for a stay of execution pending an appeal. In their verdict, the justices noted that the attachment orders were marred by irregularity and malice.
The President’s letter followed a petition by the Mufti of Uganda Sheikh Shaban Ramathan Mubaje dated November 29 to the President complaining about how the matter was handled by the judiciary.
“I had been hearing about those wrangles but I had not focused my attention to them because I knew there are capable National Institutions responsible for those issues, especially the Judiciary you head,” Museveni’s letter reads in part.
Mubajje had also publicly assailed the judiciary of being corrupt after it allowed Justus Kyabahwa to recover 19 billion Shillings owed to him by UMSC.
On June 24, 2020, the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council acting through its former Secretary General Ramathan Mugalu, Mufti Shaban Ramathan Mubajje, and former chairperson Abdulkadir Idi Balonde who has since died, sold two square miles of land located in Ssembabule district to businessman Justus Kyabahwa at 3.584billion Shillings.
In the agreement that was signed, they agreed to transfer the ownership of the land to the businessman within 150 days failure of which they would refund the money at 12 percent interest per month. However, the land already had a 15-year lease with Enterprise Holding Services ending in 2028. Therefore, UMSC was not only unable to transfer the land but also to refund the money leading to its accumulation to the current 19 billion Shillings.
In August, the High Court gave a no-objection order to the attachment of several UMSC properties to enable Kyabahwa to recover his money.
Among the property attached include; land at William Street Kampala, land at Old Kampala plot 23 to 25 comprising the National Mosque, land at Kyanja, one square mile of Land at Bukwe, Hoima, one acre of land located at Lubas Road Jinja, Plot of land at Mbale City, Shares in Uganda Ranches Limited and Commercial Holding Ltd, two square miles of land at Migyera in Buluri and plot of land in Entebbe opposite Victoria Mall.