Monitor Newspaper has been ordered by the High Court judge Musa Sekaana to pay Judiciary Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana UGX450m as general and exemplary damages for defaming him.
Bigirimana sued Monitor in 2017 contending that the paper defamed him with different stories, which mostly rotated around corruption scandals in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) where he was working as the permanent secretary.
Bigirimana noted that the stories portrayed him as a serial criminal who was untouchable in any circumstances; an embattled civil servant who made illicit expenditures on OPM funds; a person who thrives on State House pampering and patronage, and who obstructs police investigations.
In defense, Monitor denied that the stories were malicious or defamatory to Bigirimana. The paper further noted that the publications were in respect of issues concerning the running of public offices in which a colossal amount of money was lost and that Bigirimana was the overall accounting officer in the said ministry.
The paper further revealed that stories were not published in bad faith rather were commentaries on an issue of public importance and it would be a breach of duty being a public watchdog to keep silent on the events of the day.
However, in today’s ruling, Sekaana reasoned that based on evidence on record, Monitor was interested in a specific person in the entire investigation and reporting about the OPM audit. He also blamed the paper for not giving a chance to Bigirimana to express his views on the same saga.
He further ruled, “The defendants acted negligently while reporting about the OPM scandal. The reporters failed to appreciate the nature of the fraud and how it was done, and resorted to making conclusive remarks about the plaintiff as the main suspect since he was the accounting officer and yet the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report had set out an elaborate procedure on how the scheme that led to the embezzlement was executed by officials of Ministry of Finance, Bank of Uganda and the principal accountant of OPM.”
From the above background, Sekaana decide to grant general damages worth UGX350m to Bigirimana for his reputation and UGX100m as exemplary damages all to be paid by Monitor Newspaper.
Sekaana also directed the paper to publish four apologies with equal publicity as the impugned defamatory publications within two weeks and never to publish defamatory statements again against Bigirimana.