The building inspector who made a site visit and recommended the demolition of St Peters Ndeeba Church has on Wednesday afternoon told court that the church building in question was not in use by time of demolition.
Richard Naika, the former Rubaga division building inspector testified before Chief Magistrate Joan Aciro in the anti-corruption court that after the approved development plan for Plot 39 Block 7 Rubaga was released, he was asked to visit the site before a hoarding and demolition permit could be issued.
“I personally visited the area and found out that the church was not in use, they had stopped using it,” Naika, who is currently theMakindye division building inspector, told court during cross examination. The question whether the church was in use or not came after prosecution tendered in his report as one of the exhibits.
Naika and Ivan Katongole, the former acting director physical planning, are the only KCCA officials that were arrested by the state house anti-corruption unit after public uproar following the demolition of the church building that has stood tall in the area for years.
After being arrested, the duo was questioned, charged with abuse of office and conspiring to commit a felony, and were remanded to Kitalya Mini-Max Prison. Naika, however, was cleared of all charges by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), and he is now a state witness.
While testifying, the composed officer told court that the KCCA’s physical planning committee had approved a development plan submitted by businessman Dodvico Mwanje through his company, Ephraim enterprises, but that hoarding and scaffolding permits as well as demolition permits were required before any development could proceed.
“After the site visit, I wrote a report recommending the demolition of the church and other structures that were around,” he said. He also stated that he had authored the permit on which Katongole appended his signature authorizing the demolition of the church.
With help of the approved plan, Naika later showed court that the church was occupying space which had been earmarked as where Ephraim enterprises was going to construct an approved structure.
Prior to Naika’s report recommending the demolition of the structures, the joint administrators of the estate of the late Evelyn Nachwa, who in 2019 had been declared as rightful owner of the land that hosted the church, went back to the court seeking an order to demolish the Church structure on the land in question which Justice John Eudes Keitirima so granted.
In his July 10, 2020 ruling, Justice Keitirima said: “I find the order superfluous. Once a party is declared the rightful owner of the suit premises and is given vacant possession of the same, he or she is at liberty to use the land as she or he wishes. If she or he found there structures she or he doesn’t need, he or she is at liberty to demolish them.”
Just like the second state witness, Anita Kusiima, the Kampala Capital City Authority-KCCA physical planning supervisor, Naika also told court that the hoarding and demolition permits had been issued in accordance with the correct procedure at the time.
However, John Kunya, the state prosecutor, prompted him to remember that Mark Bwambale, Deputy Director of Physical Planning, had issued an instruction asking that the issuance of permits be deferred until the establishment of a building control committee.
It is reported that in accordance with the Building Control Act, Bwambale sent an email that was issued at a time when KCCA was getting ready to transfer the responsibility for issuing building, demolition, and associated permits from the directorate of physical planning to Engineering.
The defence lawyers led by Ambrose Tebyasa told court that the regulation could not possibly be put into effect in July or August 2020, when his client sought for demolition permits, given the fact that it was put into effect months later, in October.
“Mr Naika, is it true that the said regulation was not effective until October that year, and did the authority stop issuing permits after Bwambale’s email?” Tebyasa asked.
In reply, the witness said that despite Bwambale’s email which was written at the beginning July, 2020, the authority continued to give permits to many other clients including Dodovico Mwanje.
Defence lawyers also wondered why prosecution is fronting the said communication from a deputy director when the process of approving plans, including that of Mwanje, were okayed by 11-member Physical Planning Committee which is composed of directors including the KCCA Executive Director.
“What is the flow of instruction?” Tebyasa wondered. “Were the directors aware of the said email? If yes, why weren’t they charged as well. From the entire Physical Planning Committee, only Mr Katongole is here. He was just a secretary to the committee. And why charge a client (Dodovico) who followed the known due process?”
The defense lawyers also asked the witness about the time of executing the order given the fact that on file procession indicated that this had been carried out during night which was contrary to then curfew regulation.
“The demolition had to happen over the weekend and off-peak hours to avoid interruptions of traffic and other businesses within the vicinity of the site,” Naika said, agreeing with the defence that the permit could be enforced past 7 pm.
During the session, chief magistrate Joan Aciro lost her cool and sent members of the public from her courtroom on grounds of making unnecessary noise. Most of those sent out were parishioners from Ndeeba who had turned up to hear proceedings of the matter. She later adjourned the matter to October 18 for further hearing.
According to court records, Mwanje is accused of the theft of assorted Church properties valued at 850 million Shillings. The six police officers and the GISO are accused of abuse of office, corruption, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, and disobeying lawful orders.
Besides these criminal charges, Mwanje is also battling a civil case over the ownership of the land that hosts the Church. The Principal Judge Dr. Flavian Zeija set aside a judgment that was based on the sale of the contested land to Mwanje and ordered a retrial.