OPM relief food suspects remanded
Four OPM relief food suspects remanded. FILE PHOTO

COVID-19: Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) relief food suspects remanded to Kitalya prison until 4th May 2020

Buganda Road Court has remanded officials from the Office of the Prime Minister – OPM who are accused of inflating food prices meant for the COVID-19 relief for the underprivileged families in urban centres.

The four criminals which include the Permanent Secretary in the OPM, Christine Kintu Guwatudde, the Accounting Officer, Joel Wanjala, the Assistant Commissioner Procurement, Fred Lutimba and the Commissioner Disaster Preparedness (head COVID-19 relief), Martin Owor arrived at Buganda Road Court in a Police Criminal Investigation van at 1:55 pm.

In a fully packed courtroom, Grade One Magistrate Doreen Karungi read charges to the OPM suspects which include the fraudulent practice of hiking prices of the COVID-19 relief food contrary to the PPDA Act.

In their plea, all the suspects pleaded not guilty of the mentioned charges. And in the Magistrate ruling she told the suspects that due to the fully packed courtroom contrary to the Presidential directive of social distancing, she would not hear their bail application.

This prompted other members to vacate the courtroom leaving only a few members. But this did not stop the Magistrate from proceeding with her ruling.

“So for that matter since it was not observed, I am not going to proceed with the bail application at this stage,” Karungi said.

The suspects’ lawyer pleaded to the Magistrate to receive the bail application in five minutes, but all in vain.

“I am remanding them up to the 4th of May,” Karungi ruled.

OPM relief food suspects remanded
Four OPM relief food suspects remanded. FILE PHOTO

Karungi remanded the suspects to Kitalya Prison until 4th May 2020.

The Magistrate’s ruling did not go well with the suspects’ lawyers saying their clients have been denied their right to bail.

“Because our clients right to apply for bail and later on to be admitted for bail has been denied on grounds of COVID and yet the court could sit, despite COVID the court as able to sit. So, we don’t think it was fair to use the excuse of COVID to take away a fundamental right,” Fred Muwema, a defence lawyer said.

Paul Kamba also defence lawyer in his view, said that court acted unfairly to the defence side because it would have allowed in the bail application just like it accepted to sit and read charges to the suspects.

“We were so dismayed by how the court was conducted, we really thought that our client’s application for bail should have been entertained by a court, just the way court entertained the prosecution side and it read the charges and proceeded well, so in the circumstances where court first listens to the prosecution side and denies the defence side audience it was unfair,” Kamba said.

The four individuals were arrested on Thursday 9 April 2020, by the State House Anti-corruption Unit head Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema and handed over to Police over allegations of hiking COVID-19 relief food items.