Uganda: MPs Dig Into Departed Asian Properties Saga

The back-and-forth around the properties that the British-Asians who former president Idi Amin drove out of Uganda in 1972, this week came to a head with the release of a report of a committee of Parliament that resulted from a two-year investigation.

The report indicates hundreds of these prime properties, which were managed under the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board (DAPCB), were cunningly transferred into the names of wealthy businessmen who currently own them and rent out a number of them to government agencies.

The report was done by a sub-committee of the committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) following a two-year investigation into the operations of DAPCB.

The sub-committee was instituted to investigate allegations that some of the expropriated properties for which the government had paid compensation following the expulsion of Asians in 1972, were repossessed by those who had been compensated.

It was also to establish the total amount that was realised from the sale or rent of the properties, and to establish the number of court cases that DAPCB is faced with.

The sub-committee was also charged with establishing whether there was possible fraud during the course of repossession of properties, propose measures of safeguarding assets against fraud, and investigate any other matters that could be incidental to the administration of the properties.

The 83-page report, which was issued by the committee late last month and released to the public on Thursday, cites fraud in the manner in which most of the properties ended up in the hands of those who currently run them.

Fraudulent repossession

The report, a copy of which Saturday Monitor has seen, reveals that most of the properties were repossessed without the listed owners fulfilling all the requirements under the Expropriated Properties Act (EPA), which transferred the properties and businesses that had been taken over during the Amin regime to the Ministry of Finance to either return them to their former owners or sell them off.

Among the requirements under the EPA was for a claimant to return and be physically present before a property could be returned to such a person, but this, according to the committee, did not happen in many cases.

"The requirement to physically return to Uganda under Section 9 of the EPA was mandatory. However, the committee noted that some properties were repossessed and certificates handed over to persons who never returned to Uganda contrary to the mandatory provision of the law, the report reads in part.

The committee names at least 637 properties which were repossessed even when the registered proprietors never returned to Uganda.

According to the list, 285 out of the 637 properties were repossessed by Ms Unia Ssebaggala, 119 by Mr Mohamed Allibhai and 53 by Ms Mumtaz Kassam. The others were repossessed by Minex Karia, who took 46 properties; Praful Patel, who took 50 properties; Praful Chandra, who repossessed 18 properties; and N. K. Radia, who repossessed 66 of such properties.

"All repossessions whose former owners didn't physically return to manage the properties as required by law should be cancelled or revoked for being null and void... The minister should invoke his/her powers under Section 9 (1) of the EPA to make an order to either retain such properties as government or the same be disposed of in a manner prescribed by Regulation 11 of the Expropriated Properties (Repossession and Disposal)..." the committee recommends.

The committee further recommends that all transfers of ownership that were effected on the basis of letters of repossession be revoked and be regularised by the acquisition of repossession certificates.

The committee also recommends the prosecution of "so-called" landlords for such properties for misrepresentation and fraudulent acquisition of property where they are found to have fraudulently acquired repossession certificates.

Properties that were repossessed by invoking repossession certificates that were fraudulently obtained should also revert to government, the committee suggests.

In other cases, the committee noted that some properties were repossessed without supporting documents. The report, for example, says Mr Alibhai controls 725 properties, for which he could not show any supporting documents like powers of attorney, certificates of repossession or letters of repossession.

The report further points out that some of the fraud around the expropriated properties was carried out either with the use of powers of attorney that were purportedly issued by property owners outside the country or letters of repossession issued by ministers of Finance.

Powers of attorney

The perpetrators of the alleged fraud, the committee report says, went to countries such as Canada and Britain where most of the departed Asian had fled to and obtained powers of attorney from them, which they reportedly used to take possession of the properties.

According to the report, whereas some of the property owners could not physically return to oversee the repossession process, some were reportedly scared away by those who are currently managing their properties in Kampala and other cities around the country.

Some of those who used powers of attorney in order to repossess the properties transferred them into their own names, but often in a manner that contravened the law, the report says.

"The committee found that a number of agents who repossessed the properties on behalf of their principals transferred these properties without a required registrable instrument, which by law is the certificate of repossession that confers powers to transfer to former owners," the report states.

Letters of repossession

Some of the properties, the committee noted, were repossessed on the basis of letters of repossession issued by ministers yet such repossession could only have been effected on the basis of certificates of repossession. The committee recommends that all repossessions that were effected on the basis of repossession letters be revoked.

In some instances, the report says, repossession letters were used and in others special certificates to transfer ownership of properties. The MPs also want such transfers of ownership revoked.

"All transfers of ownership that were done on the basis of letters of repossession be revoked and the same be regularised by acquisition of the registrable instruments being repossession certificates," the report says.

Withdrawn certificates

The report notes that whereas the Minister of Finance on November 8, 1991, withdrew repossession certificates that had been issued to about 20 claimants after they failed to return to Uganda within 120 days as required by the EPA, some of the properties for which the repossession certificates were withdrawn have since landed into private hands as opposed to being under the management of the custodian board. The report recommends that all such properties be recovered.

"All certificates of title issued on such properties should be immediately cancelled and the register of titles be corrected to reflect the ownership prior to the purported repossessions. DAPCB should upon adoption of this report, institute processes to recover these properties from current illegal holders.

Paid properties repossessed

The committee noted that government had as of December 31, 2005, paid compensation amounting to Shs1.7b to 119 former Asian owners, but that some of them had since turned around to take possession of properties for which they had already been compensated.

"Those who are found to have fraudulently reclaimed properties for which they had already been compensated should lose the property but should be prosecuted subject to direction of the Director of Public Prosecutions on the matter," the report recommends.

The report indicates that some of the properties for which government had paid compensation had been stolen.

"The committee noted that some formerly compensated properties by government had ended up in the hands of unscrupulous individuals, who had later transferred the same to bona fide purchasers for value without notice," the report states in part.

Some of the properties whose owners were compensated

Plot 66 William Street, Kampala

Plot 10 Solomon Rise Bugolobi, Kampala

Plot 16A Rashid Street, Fort Portal

Plot 70 Gweri Road, Soroti

Plot 6 Princess Drive, Bugolobi,

Plot 7 Kanjokya Street, Kamwokya

PIot 3 Kampala Road

PIot 45 Lake Drive, Nakawa Port Bell Road

Floor Mill Store & Jaggery, Kamuli

Plot 9 Mbuya Road, Bugolobi

Plot 7 Solomon Rise, Bugolobi

Plot 11 Kololo Hill Drive, Kampala

Plot 28 Mackenzie Vale, Kampala

PIot 3 School Drive, Mbale

Plot 34 Madhvani Road, Jinja

Plot S23 Muyenga Tank Hill

Plot 20A Babiha Road, Fort Portal

Plot 29 Costantino Robo Road, Mbarara

Plot 25 Nasser Road, Kampala

PIot 8 Nabigya Lane, Mbale

Plot 5 Kutch Road East, Jinja

Plot 29 Margherita Road, Kasese

Plot 7 Princess Anne Drive, Kampala

Plot 50 High Street, Mbarara

Plot 38-44 School Road, Arua

Plot 88 Nile Avenue, Jinja

Plot 58 Madhvani Road, Jinja

Plot 38 Madhvani Road, Jinja

Plot 32 - 34 High Street, Mbarara

Plot 4 Bandali Rise, Bugolobiw

PIot 20 Bazara Road, Tororo

Plot 3 Kampala Road, Kampala

Background

Defaulters

The report indicates that 1,524 properties had been sold off and fully been paid for as of December 31, 2005, fetching government slightly under Shs15.4 billion.

The downside was, however, that DAPCB had failed to collect rent to the tune of Shs2.3 billion from government agencies. The biggest defaulters are the Ministry of Defence, which owes Shs949m, Ministry of Public Service, Public Service Commission and police, which owe Shs517m, the Ministry of Health, which owes Shs418m, the Prisons department, which owes Shs254m, the Law Development Centre, which owes Shs39m and the Office of the President, which owes Shs20m.

The committee finally recommends that efforts to wind up DAPCB should be expedited, but that the board should first compile a comprehensive asset register of all its properties for purposes of reconciling and updating its books.

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