It is more than six months and police are still holding onto opposition doyen Dr Kizza Besigye’s vehicle which was impounded in June during protests against raising commodity prices in the country.
Besigye, a four-time presidential candidate and head of the Red Card Front pressure group together with political activist Samuel Lubega Mukaaku, were protesting from Shawriyako, Downtown Kampala when the vehicle was impounded and towed to the central police station (CPS) along Buganda road on June 14, 2022.
In late October, Besigye's lawyers led by city lord mayor Erias Lukwago asked court to order the police to release the vehicle saying that Besigye was struggling to transport himself since the vehicle had been taken and yet, the prosecution didn't list it as an exhibit needed in the case. This prompted Buganda Road court to order that the vehicle be given back to rightful owners under whose name it is registered.
But more than a month later Mukaku says that police has declined to give back the vehicle saying that there are still examining it. He says police insists that they need the vehicle for some of their investigations.
"We did apply to court to have the vehicle and court was happy because they thought it was not part of the case. We went to police with the court order to release the vehicle. Unfortunately, police even up to today has not released the vehicle and are giving flimsy reasons that they are still checking the vehicle because of this and that. Just a case of continued persecution of the persons and families and those whose lives depend on this vehicle," said Mukaku.
However, Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson Patrick Onyango says that Besigye's team didn’t bring the owner of the car as court had ordered. The UAK 773F vehicle is registered in the names of Obed Kamulegeya. Onyango adds that the vehicle was inspected by the inspector of vehicles and because of its modification found to be unfit to be on the road and henceforth de-registered. He didn't have details on what was unfit about the vehicle but said that it had megaphones attached to it.
However, this particular vehicle is different from the famous "Beast", a Land Cruise reg no. UAN 661V which Besigye modified with wire mesh on the windscreen and mounted louder speakers on it. Nonetheless, Onyango’s statement is collaborated by an affidavit sworn by Lawrence Tuhebwe, one of the police officers who was involved in impounding the vehicle.
Tuhebwe says, the vehicle was inspected by the inspector of vehicles and it was found to be unfit for the road. He also says that Besigye denied ownership of the vehicle at the time of arrest and the same was assigned a search certificate indicating that the vehicle ownership is unknown.
“That police form-28 was filed submitted to URA and it was established that M/V UAK 773F is registered in the names of OBED KAMULEGEYA…was inspected by inspector of M/Vehicles who found it unfit and hence deregistered it...has since 14th June 2022 never been claimed by anybody,” reads the affidavit in part.
The police does not explain clearly the process taken to deregister the vehicle, but the mandate to register vehicles lies with the ministry of Works and Transport, specifically the chief licensing officer.
Deregistration of a vehicle means removing the vehicle from the register and the owner returning the number plate. The Traffic and Road Safety Act 2020 provides for cancellation of registration on destruction or permanent removal of motor vehicle.
The Act notes that; "if any registered motor vehicle, trailer or engineering plant is destroyed or becomes permanently useless as a motor vehicle, trailer or engineering plant or is removed permanently from Uganda, the owner of the motor vehicle, trailer or engineering plant shall immediately give to a licensing officer notice of its destruction, condition or removal, as the case may be, and shall deliver to the licensing officer the registration book of the motor vehicle, trailer or engineering plant and its registration plates."
Eng Nathan Tumushabe, a senior vehicle inspector at the ministry of Works and Transport explains that a vehicle can be deregistered if it's to be exported to another destination which automatically dictates that the Ugandan number can no longer be used. The number plate, being a property of the government is given back upon deregistration of the vehicle.
A vehicle can also be deregistered when it's declared written-off. Tumushabe says it is insurance companies that usually declare vehicles as written off after a valuation to assess is conducted and found that they are damaged beyond repair. He adds that a vehicle can be deregistered when vehicle owners voluntarily apply to the ministry of Works and Transport to have it deregistered. This can be done when one feels that their vehicle has been destroyed beyond repair or when it is too old and they no longer want to use it
Tumushabe says that when a vehicle isn't road worthy, the owner is only advised to take it for repair before bringing it back to the road. URN could not independently verify from the chief licensing officer or the public relations officer is indeed this vehicle was deregistered. The latter officer was not reachable while the former could not get the information for us at the time of publishing this story.
However, when a vehicle is de-registered, it cannot be licensed to be on the road again unless it is re-registered and registration fees paid again.