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SPOTLIGHT: Things falls apart at Custodian Board amid fraud allegations over departed Asians properties 

Mr George William Bizibu, executive secretary of the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board appearing before COSASE on July 16, 2019. (PHOTO/File)

KAMPALA – When President Idi Amin expelled all individuals of Asian origin from Uganda in 1972, they left behind various properties which included businesses, stock and real estate.

For some time, the properties remained in limbo until government established the Expropriated Properties Act. Under this Act, all properties that were left behind by the Asians were vested in the government of Uganda under the authority and management of Departed Asians Property Custodian Board (DAPCB).

The Board members include Finance Minister Matia Kasaija, Lands Minister Betty Amongi, Attorney General William Byaruhanga, State Minister for Local Government Jenifer Namuyangu, State Minister for Industry and Cooperatives, Mr Michael Werikhe, Gen Salim Saleh who is a “co-opted member”.

According to Section 5 (1) of the Assets of Departed Asians Act mandates the board to sit at least once every month.

However, it has emerged that failure by the board members to meet has over the years facilitated a lot of fraud at DAPCB where hundreds of properties have been stolen.  An Auditor General’s report has raised accountability queries at the Custodian Board such as theft of public funds through fictitious compensations of up to Shs1.7b, double allocation of properties, forged land titles, sale of assets without proper valuation, missing documents among other illegalities.

The February 2011-March 2016 report of the Auditor General, Mr John Muwanga, revealed that the Board chaired by the Finance Minister failed to maintain proper books of account and annual financial statements were not prepared. In the result, it took Auditor General 15 years to audit the Custodian Board activities.

In the process, billions of shillings in tax payers’ money was misappropriated. The Auditor General’s report for instance, shows that Shs50.2m cash was not banked and lacked accountability documents at the time of audit. Another Shs15.2m was receipted as cash received but could not be traced in the bank statement. Also about Shs500m was spent directly from the collection account without authority of the Board.

“It was also noted that Shs292.3m was withdrawn from the bank without explanation as to the nature and purpose of the payments… these actions are not in accordance with best practices in financial management… [inquiry into the use of these funds should be instituted],” the AG report reads in part.

At the same several properties in prime areas of Kampala that are in the records of DAPCB were dubiously acquired or registered in the names of other people. The Auditor General inspected 139 properties in Jinja Municipal Council and found that the Board did appoint qualified professionals to value the properties. There was also no complete list of tenants and properties. The AG also discovered cases of duplicated allocation of properties, abandoned properties, irregular disposal of properties, arrears of ground rent and unscrupulous property managers. He says these irregularities have resulted into the loss of government properties.   Other properties in prime areas of Kampala that are in the records of DAPCB but dubiously acquired or registered in the names of other people include; Plot 20 Parliament Avenue; Plot 3 Market Street; Plots 6, 8, 10 and 12 Namirembe Road; Plot 14 A George Street; and Plot 7 Bombo road.

A select task force by the parliamentary Committee on Commission, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) is investigating circumstances under which departed Asians properties that were fully compensated for by government ended up in hands of individuals and companies.

The board chaired by Finance Minister Matia Kasaija claims unspecified amount of money was paid to undisclosed claimants for properties which were sold by the Custodian Board prior to receiving repossession claims by original owners.

The MPs have challenged the Custodian Board to publish a list of the beneficiaries to confirm whether they did not pay ghost claimants.

While appearing before COSASE last week, the executive secretary of the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board (DAPCB), Mr George William Bizibu, admitted the accountability queries when questioned by MPs. During the interface with the MPs, Mr Bizibu who has been at the helm of the DAPCB for about two years, said the board does not have information on the current ownership of several plots despite the records indicating that they were compensated by the government.

However, the MPs accused Mr Bizibu of trying to trying to cover up senior government officials accused of grabbing the Asian properties.

They singled out while his list claimed the Custodian Board owned Plot 24 along Kampala Road yet a court ruling had indicated that it belongs to businessman Sudhir Ruparelia. In 2012, Justice Joseph Murangira of the High Court Land Division ruled against Custodian Board and made it clear that DAPCB was not the owner of Plot 24 along Kampala Road. The claim to this plot according to the court was “made and created without jurisdiction, irregularly, unlawfully, illegally and therefore, it’s a nullity.”

“We are giving you Mr Bizibu and your team three weeks to submit a status report on all the properties whose current occupants you do not know and submit it to this Committee,” said Task Force chairman Ibrahim Kasozi.

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