18 July 2009

Uganda: Ministers in Nakawa Estate Scam

Kampala — THE Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU) was allocated four times more land of the Nakawa Estate than had been approved by the Government, according to correspondence between the lands ministry and the Attorney General.

In a letter dated June 29, Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya asked the Minister of State for Lands, Asuman Kiyingi, to explain how the university was allocated 10 acres of land, instead of the approved 2.5 acres. "There is some indication that IUIU was given 2.5 acres of land on the Nakawa side for it to set up a shopping mall. Where does the alleged allocation of 10 acres to IUIU come from?"

The additional 7.5 acres eat into the land that was allocated to the developer of the Nakawa/Naguru estates, OpecPrime Properties, in a public private partnership (PPP) agreement signed in October 2007. The Attorney General notes that although the 2.5 acres were allocated prior to the signing of the PPP agreement with the developer, the additional 7.5 acres were given away afterwards.

In December 2005, the Islamic University, which is based in Mbale, requested through minister Isaac Musumba, for 2.5 acres of land to build a commercial plaza.

In his letter to the then local government minister, Musumba referred to a pledge by President Yoweri Museveni to avail a plot in Kampala for the construction of a $10m commercial plaza for the university. The plaza was going to be built with funding from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

During a meeting with all stakeholders on December 22, 2005, it was agreed that IUIU would seek permission to get 2.5 acres of the Nakawa Housing Estate.

"We have no objection to your proposal and request to allocate 2.5 acres of land within Nakawa Housing Estate to the Islamic University in Uganda because the proposed development by the OIC blends well with our redevelopment programme for the Naguru/Nakawa estates," the then local government minister, Tarsis Kabwegyere, responded.

However, the secretary of the Uganda Land Commission revealed in Parliament on Thursday that the university was given 10 acres instead. Kiyingi, in his response to the Attorney General's query, also confirmed that the university got 10 acres. "It is not true that the Islamic University in Uganda was given 2.5 acres. The allocation was for 10 acres," his letter said.

An acre of the estate is valued at sh1b because it is prime land in central Kampala. The additional land given to IUIU is only one of several allocations that were made of the Naguru/Nakawa estates land after it had been leased to OpecPrime Properties, a London-based company owned by Irish billionaires Luke and Brian Comer.

According to documents seen by Sunday Vision, about half of the 138 acres allocated to OpecPrime Properties have already been given out to other developers. "The Government of Ugandan cannot sign a PPP agreement with the developer and at the same time give away 50% plus of the project site to other developers," the Attorney General reacted.

This, Makubuya warned, could expose the Government to a costly legal suit. "Do you, therefore, propose a new definition of the project site to exclude the Nakawa side?" he asked in his letter.

"Do you propose to scale down the size of the project site? Is the developer agreeable to this? Or must I stand warned to receive service of court process?" To which Kiyingi suggested three possible options: either to cancel the titles given to the new developers, a partnership between OpecPrime Properties and the new developers, or the exclusion of the Nakawa side from the project.

Already a year ago, lands minister Omara Atubo recommended that OpecPrime Properties should back off the Nakawa Estate land. "The developer, OpecPrime Properties (UK), should be advised to leave out Nakawa and concentrate on Naguru," he wrote in a letter to the deputy Attorney General in June 2008.

A few months earlier, in January 2008, Atubo had directed the local government minister to allocate 10 acres to four developers - Tropical Bank, the Libyan Cultural Centre, Swacof Intertrade and Globeways.

However, OpecPrime Properties on Tuesday repeated that they will not accept anything less than the agreed acreage and warned that they would sue the Government over breach of contract.

"The purpose of this letter is to restate our client's position that the sanctity of the project site as set out in the PPP agreement must be maintained and handed over for redevelopment in accordance with the agreement," said a letter dated July 14 by Kampala Associated Advocates, the lawyers for OpecPrime Properties, to the lands minister.

"The developer will not accept anything less than the 56.1 ha (138 acres), short of which the Government will be held liable for breach of the agreement." They have given the Government up to September, when the Comer brothers are scheduled to meet President Museveni, to hand over the Nakawa site.

OpecPrime Properties won the contract to redevelop the dilapidated and condemned Naguru/Nakawa housing estates after a competitive international tender. They were going to invest $300m to build two ultra-modern satellite towns. The project stalled after the IGG ordered a probe into the procurement process.

However, while the probe was going on, plots were already being handed out to other developers.

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