27 July 2017

Uganda: Probe Told Mall On Disputed Jinja Plot Illegal, Baguma Isoke to Appear Monday

Kampala — Former State Minister for Lands and chairman of the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) Baguma Isoke has asked for more time to prepare a response as the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire Commission of inquiry into land matters probes the disputed Government property along plot 60-62 Aldina Rd, Jinja.

While appearing before the commission Thursday, Baguma asked for more time to go to the records of the ULC and understand the matter so he can give useful information to the commission of inquiry. He was given until Monday next week.

"I do not remember handling this case. I have been following proceedings of the commission," he said. He said the matter was likely to have been handled by his predecessor, the late Mayanja Nkanji.

ULC struggling with little resources

Meanwhile, Baguma told the commission that currently ULC has limited number of technical staff to help in running its daily activities. For instance, he said they have not been having a secretary of the commission until May this year when they got someone (Robert Nyombi) in acting capacity.

He said most senior staff have been moved to other agencies and departments of government as part of the normal practice by the ministry of public service.

He said he got summons to appear before the commission two days ago and that he has been engaged with other government work in Parliament.

New mall in Jinja illegal, says land probe

The Commission of inquiry into land matters July 26 heard that the Busoga mall, owned by businessman Simpson Birungi, a proprietor of Birus Property Services, located in Jinja - Eastern part of Uganda has no occupation permit although it currently houses 60 shops including a church.

These irregularities were revealed at the ongoing hearing of land cases at the commission of inquiry into land matters at Wandegeya, Kampala on Wednesday.

There is also evidence before the commission pinning Birungi for having used a forged court order to evict 200 traders and demolished the building that formerly belonged to government on the same plot in January 16, 2015.

In addition, Birungi's five year lease from government which he claims serves as evidence of ownership of the property expired on May 31, 2016 and has never been renewed.

These two grounds alone mean Birungi is running this property illegally. There are also reports before the commission indicating that the office of the Inspector General of Government had stopped construction of the mall and ordered cancellation of the lease and title in the names of Birus Property Services but this was never respected.

It is also alleged that Birungi connived with Uganda Police Force officials, officials from the ministry of the then tourism, trade and industry, Privatization Unit (housed in the ministry of finance) and Uganda Land Commission to force the eviction exercise. '

Birungi connctions revealed

It also alleged that Birungi is highly connected to top government officials who enabled him to easily obtain necessary documents to develop the area in question.

The other suspicious transaction about this plot is related to the amount paid by Birungi to attain the lease for the fast 5 years, then 49 and 99 years.

He told the commission that he only paid Shs 2.5 million to government ('former' owners of the property) and another Shs 70 million to some agents who connected him to the property. He mentioned one agent [name: Ibanda] and said, he had forgotten the other. He also told the commission that a gentle man called 'Toyota' had in some ways helped him to secure the property.

The former historical building (which was demolished), had been under the control of the government's Privatisation Unit under African Trade Development Fund. It has since 2011, been the subject of a dispute between the Birus Property Services and Jinja Municipal Council on the one hand, and the former tenants (traders) on the other hand. Traders claim to have lost their property and business during the illegal demolition exercise.

Bamugemereire faults Police

Justice Bamugemereire, the chairperson of the land commission of inquiry faulted the police, Privatization Unit and other government officials that were involved in this exercise. She has promised to draw recommendations in the report that would ensure justice is done to the parties involved.

By end of July 27, on Wednesday, the commission had issued summons to officials of Uganda Land Commission to appear before the commission and defend their action. ULC also reportedly facilitated the leasing process of the property to Birus Property services.

Birungi admitted that there were mistakes involved in the process of procuring the lease but maintains he has some rights of ownership over the property.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Olaunah, the then under secretary at the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry and now the under secretary at the Education Service Commission told the commission on July 26 that he authored a letter of no objection in response to the application that Birus Property Services had submitted to the ministry of trade on orders of the then minister Kahinda Otafiire.

Otafiire is currently the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. Olaunah said he was acting under pressure from Otafiire and the applicants (Birus Property Services). Olaunah requested to share in camera with the commission more details about his role in this saga and other no objection letters that he had previously written.

"If my actions are the ones that led to the suffering of traders, I apologise," Olaunah told the commission.

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