WITH all hopes of a negotiated re-opening of Buganda Kingdom-owned Central Broadcasting Service (CBS) fading by the day, the Ugandan kingdom has given the radio station’s workers green light to sue government for damages, almost six weeks after the radio was closed,  according to a report in the Observer

According to our sources, the CBS management decided to sanction the suit after it emerged through a Cabinet leak that President Museveni was roundly against re-opening the radio. The President hosted Cabinet for a two-day marathon meeting at State House Nakasero on October 12-13.

During that meeting, sources said, the President who personally tabled the CBS issue, spoke for over an hour and while no decision was taken, the ministers understood the President to be against the re-opening of the station.

The President’s hard stance is the clearest indication, so far, that his September 30 meeting with the Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II at Entebbe, during which CBS radio was top on the agenda, was merely aimed at easing tension. The Observer has been told that the two leaders did discuss CBS and President Museveni told the Kabaka that he needed time to consult his Cabinet.

Our sources have told us that the President’s uncompromising position may have been influenced by an intelligence brief to Security Minister, Amama Mbabazi, warning that re-opening CBS and Akaboozi, without substantially weakening their positions on the airwaves, could be counterproductive.

The brief dated October 2 says that a lot of groundwork was needed to weaken the two radio stations by poaching its best presenters and “demanding that they unconditionally shuffle various presenters [to] unfamiliar programmes, i.e. from presenters to newscasters and vice versa.”

The intelligence report also suggested that the government deliberately promotes “those stations that are on the same page with the system and by the time they (CBS and Akaboozi) re-organise, it will be after months when we have steadily set off.”
Aware that the President is bent on not re-opening the station, CBS workers held a meeting recently and resolved to seek legal redress. Management later agreed to join the legal battle and hired Katende, Ssempebwa and Company Advocates to file a civil suit in the High Court.

The lawyers this week served the Attorney General with an eight-page notice of intention to sue. The law requires that before a case is filed, the Attorney General is served with a 45-day notice.
The case is being filed by CBS and five members of staff; Florence Luwedde, Eng. Wasswa Mukasa, Patrick Lubwama, Sam Mponye, and Kagoro Mayanja.

In the notice of intention to sue, CBS is demanding Shs1.4 billion in damages as compensation for the loss of revenue and deprivation of earnings for the days the radio has been off air. The station says it loses Shs 31 million each day the radio is off air. The workers, meanwhile, are demanding Shs65 million per month in lost salaries and Shs10 million as lost commission since the closure. 

“On the 10th day of September, 2009,” Katende, Ssempebwa & Co. Advocates told the Attorney General, “the Broadcasting Council (and/or its servants/agents acting within the course/scope of their employment), and acting ultra vires and outside the Council’s statutory duties, unilaterally, illegally and unconstitutionally purported to withdraw and revoke the broadcasting licence of the CBS.”

The lawyers said that the “Council took this illegal and unconstitutional action by forcefully confiscating the assets of the CBS and preventing it from exercising its various constitutional rights and freedoms.”

The lawyers argue that the Council had no legal right to withdraw the licence or stop the station from operating. The functions, powers and responsibilities of the Council, the lawyers argue, “do not include the power to withdraw and/or revoke a broadcasting licence and/or close a radio station.

Even if the Council had the legal authority to withdraw the licence, the lawyers argue, the procedures followed were ultra vires, illegal, wrongful and an infringement of fundamental constitutional rights.

The lawyers submit that Articles 28, 40 and 44 (c) of the Constitution were especially infringed upon by the closure of CBS radio.
Article 28 is about fair hearing and it states that an accused person shall be entitled to a fair, speedy and public hearing. Article 40 is about economic rights, while Article 44 states that under no circumstances will anyone be denied some specific rights, including that of a fair hearing.

The lawyers will ask court to declare the revocation of CBS radio “unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful, null and void.” Speaking to The Observer after registering their complaints with the lawyers, Patrick Lubwama said the closure of the radio has ruined the livelihood of his young family.

“I joined CBS around 2003 as a cleaner. It is here that I earn something to feed my family. I have an expecting wife, one school-going kid and a young one at home. What does the government want me to do with this family?

Florence Luwedde, the station’s Promotions Manager and a mother of three, expressed the same feelings. “Where is our future? Through CBS, we have been mobilising people to work and I was about to give out agricultural implements before we were closed. We have families to feed and dependants to look after,” said Luwedde who has worked at CBS since its inception in 1996.

Click here to read the full report, posted on the Observer's website.