Jesus Christ was and is still to this day and age, divine in nature. This can be validated by Jesus’ wise discourses which have reigned high for many years following his resurrection and ascension to heaven.
In one of such many timeless sermons, Jesus Christ speaks highly about the beauty of the warring parties resolving their own differences as opposed to washing their dirty linen there before the public courts of law. Jesus justifies himself by observing how on receipt of the complaint, the judge would go ahead and hear the case in public.
And then, use the law to decide the complaint in favor of either of the two warring parties. That having been said and done, the judge would go ahead and invite the loser to face the ominous consequences of their folly. Simply put, Jesus was cautioning us about the fact that the law is double edged. And this being so, you never know who of the two using it to stab the other, can end up stabbing.
Emeritus Justice James Ogoola Munange was an immensely devout man. This is why, regardless of the fact that he was a highly lettered man, he encouraged and even established at the commercial division of the high court, an arbitration section for the purpose of resolving business conflicts without recourse to litigation. “The legal process is like a pregnancy. You can never be sure of the health status of the baby… not after until it has been born,” the famous wordsmith often lectured.
Your writer is acquainted with the fact that businessman Patrick Baguma Bitature is a practicing catholic. Yours truly can’t state emphatically that the reverse is true in the case of the South African guys pursuing the Ugandan, to recover from him a total of thirty millions US Dollars. But I am familiar with the story regarding the ten million US dollars Bitature picked from the South Africans in 2014. The debt has since grown to thirty million US dollars on account of non-payment.
Luckily enough, Bitature doesn’t disagree with the fact that took the funds from the South Africans transacting as Vantage Mezzanine Fund 11 Partnership. He even states how he is willing to refund whatever is due and owing as long as the lenders are also willing to play by the rules of engagement.
For starters, the rules of engagement which Bitature is apparently drawing our attention to, is the process of arbitration. The lender and the instant borrower on their own volition, wrote an agreement anticipating a fall-out. The duo agreed to negotiate a way out of such a fall-out in the event it ended up happening.
Credibly, they picked a neutral ground where they are supposed to hold their matters in the manner they clearly agreed to, in black and white. That ground is London. Yet here in Uganda, and moreover in courts of law, they are stabbing each other! One can wonder about how they ended up in the Ugandan courts!
Genesis of fall-out
It all started with the South Africans dispatching a demand notice to Bitature in 2019. The lenders were giving Bitature a deadline of thirty days to mobilize the thirty million dollars and hand the same to them. Or else, the lenders vowed, they were going to seize Bitature’s entire business empire.
In rejoinder, Bitature asked his financers to stick to the letter and spirit of the agreement which they had reasoned and entered together. He also told the South Africans how he had invested the funds in anticipation of getting it back when Uganda’s oil had started sprouting out of the soil. As he was still agonizing over the late arrival of oil, Bitature told his financers, how the Covid-19 scourge then paid a rude visit and hence complicating the matters for the businesspeople across the globe. But then again, the South Africans kept on and on hounding Bitature.
They would aggravate these matters by threatening to cause a transfer of the securities the borrower had pledged to them in their favor and then sell them off.Bitature now knew clearly how his kuku had been roasted. What was being awaited was to serve it wholly to the South Africans! This is how he also trotted to the Ugandan court to stop the accident that was merely waiting to happen.
Justice Boniface Wamala based at the commercial section of the high court, told the parties to march off to arbitration to which, they had agreed during the negotiation and actual issuance of the loan. The South Africans, apparently driven on by the desire to recover their money and in light of the ongoing arbitration process, moved to the registrar of companies in Uganda and asked him to alter Bitature’s security to them.
The lender’s luck would run out when Bitature discovered what was going on and sent his lawyers to remind the registrar of companies about the arbitration which the South Africans had now skipped and were now eyeing to grab his empire. The registrar who had actually heard the application by now and was only reserving the ruling, went on and accepted to throw it on the shelves to gather dust.
The stance angered the lenders. This is how they ended up appealing against it. If they expected relief from Justice Musa Ssekaana, the judge ended up nailing theminstead, and further. Ssekaana chased them away. He stated he could not help them since they chose to do business with Bitature in breach of the law. By this he meant, the Southern Africans didn’t register with the registrar of companies prior to carrying out business in Uganda and, with Bitature.
Social media judges
Other than providing comfort to Bitature, the ruling on the contrary, brought much torment to the businessman. Ugandans quickly took to social media and dismissed the ruling as a license to the borrowers to avoid liability. Some of them even dared the victorious party to ignore the ruling and go ahead and clear the debt!
The South Africans, in spite of the fact that they had appealed the ruling and in light of the fact that the arbitration was also still on, instructed their lawyers to run an advert calling for prospective buyers of Bitature’s properties.
Bitature was alarmed. He instructed his own lawyers to hit back. The lawyers issued a statement complete with Ssekaana’s ruling to dispel the advert as being a farce. The lawyers argued that the ruling had rendered dead the firm via which the South Africans issued the loans. As such, the lawyers educated, such a dead entity, were no longer vested with legal powers to sue, let alone to be sued.
Apart from the above, the lawyers threatened to sue the opposite lawyers and the court bailiff himself for contempt of court via advertising the client’s property. They were asking for a full page newspaper apology dictated by themselves plus a total of USD1m compensation to let the issue abate. Other than running the apology, the Daily Monitor returned with a similar advert!
The South Africans also weighed in. They issued a statement vowing to receive back what is due to them by hook or crook! Meanwhile, the social media had by now added the lawyers to Bitature and went on to insult them using all the derogatory terms you can imagine of. Undeterred, Fred Muwema on behalf of Bitature, went ahead and gave an interview where he stated that his client’s court victory was not a one-off.
The lawyer spotting a patch of grey hair, referenced the case of Sudhir Ruparelia against Bank of Uganda plus that of Ham Kiggundu and Diamond Trust Bank, to make a case that the courts of law had previously used similar laws to declare loans duly received to be invalid.
Enter criminal prosecution
Before we knew it, another judge, Stephen Mubiru had joined the mix. This one would end up by declaring Bitature a candidate of private criminal prosecution against Muwema’s protest application. The judge, using very sharp words bordering on extremism, even went ahead and unusually ordered Muwema to meet the costs of the application on behalf of the client.
The case had now gone through three hands. From Boniface Wamala, Musa Ssekaana to Stephen Mubiru. Yet it was only a matter of time before it could end before another judicial officer in a magistrates’ court! This was all happening in light of the fact that there was also another arbitration process in London!
One for the road
We started with the sermon of Jesus regarding reconciliation. We again urge Bitature and his financers to calm down and do what Jesus’ sermon educates us to do when we find ourselves in the mess the two parties are into.
A lot of money, ounces of energy and good PR have been lost simply because the warring parties cannot reason together about how to amicably resolve their own differences. The strangers ranging from lawyers, judges, bailiffs and social media judges cannot offer conclusive justice to each of the two warring parties. They themselves alone can negotiate the justice they want. In any case, they chose to resolve the matter in London, let them go ahead and do that as per Jesus’ counsel.
They would love to do business in future. So they need to look more at what unites them than what divides them. As they are bickering, they are exposing themselves as unreasonable people incapable of figuring out the fact that money lenders require borrowers to do business and vice versa. To hold positive negotiations, the parties would need to embrace the principle of give and take and more importantly, let bygones be bygones. Enough said. A fabulous weekend and week ahead folks.
- Mr. Stephen Kasozi Muwambi is a seasoned crime investigative writer, majoring in judicial-based stories. His two decades’ experience as a senior investigative journalist has made him one of the best to reckon on in Uganda. He can also be reached via [email protected]
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