KAMPALA – Earlier in the week, the underfire Executive Secretary of the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board (DAPCB), Mr George William Bizibu called a press conference and blamed several owners of buildings acquired under the Custodian Board.
Mr. Bizibu, and board member Dr Abdul Byakatonda, pressed the panick button after they were placed under investigation over UGX1.6 billion property involving city investor Margaret Ssekidde of Seroma Ltd.
The joint investigation by both State House Anti-Corruption Unit and the Criminal Intelligence Directorate (CID) was sanctioned by President Museveni after the investor reported the matter to the head of state.
According to Mr. Charles Twine, the spokesperson of the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) the top Custodian Board bosses including executive secretary Mr Bizibu are being investigated on orders of President Museveni.
PML Daily has seen a letter written by the Permanent Secretary in the Finance Ministry, Mr Keith Muhakanizi—warning against allocation of properties belonging to departed Asians.
In a March 23, 2018 letter to Bizibu, Mr Muhakanizi warns that it is only court that can direct the cancellation of a certificate of title of such property and not the board or its members, some of whom are ministers.
“…where repossession certificate for properties under the DAPCB had been issued, only the relevant courts of law had the authority to cancel such certificates in accordance with the law. It was agreed that the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and the board must continue to respect the rule of law. Therefore any orders of court must be complied with,” Mr Muhakanizi’s letter reads in part.
“By copy of this letter, I am duly informing Hon Ministers who are members of the Departed Asians Property custodian Board (DAPCB) and the Clerk to Parliament who has requested information to assist Members of Parliament carry out their legislative and oversight functions in this matter,” the letter adds.
Mr. Muhakanizi’s letter comes on the backdrop of the Auditor General report that accuses high ranking Government officials of having influenced certain actions and decisions of the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board (DAPCB)
The board was established in 1973 to manage all assets left behind by the 50,000 Asians who were forced out by the late dictator Idi Amin. Under the NRM Government, departed Asians could either repossess their properties or be paid compensation provided they could prove ownership.
However, the Auditor General says top government officials and renowned businessmen had a hand in the dubious acquisition of some of the properties the Asians left behind in 1972 when they were expelled by Idi Amin.
“The decisions of management in some instances were not based on established procedures. As a consequence, properties may have been wrongfully allocated, repossessed and compensated for,” the Auditor General’s report for 2011 reads in part
“Due to political influence, purchase prices could be reduced below the reserve prices without proper justification. There were also instances of defaulting in payments with no appropriate action taken,” it adds.
A total of sh239m for 87 properties remains uncollected, the audit established.
Most stunningly, the report states that receipt books and bank statements for the period 2000 to 2007 could not be found, and that 28 files of properties sold have gone missing.
In addition, there were no bid registers and bid evaluation reports for 77 properties sold, and there were no valuation reports for 39 others.
“I understand that the Government is in the process of winding up the activities of the Custodian Board,” Muwanga concludes.
This, he adds, should only be done after the board has accounted for all the money it was entrusted with.
The Auditor General also discovered serious flaws and irregularities in the management of the funds.
In his 30-page report, John Muwanga found that sh1.9b was withdrawn under unclear circumstances from the divestiture account at the Bank of Uganda on February 19, 2001.
“I was not provided adequate supporting documentation for the transaction and neither was authority from the board provided. I was not able to ascertain how the funds were utilized,” Muwanga says, calling the transaction irregular and possibly fraudulent.
Moreover, the Auditor General found that none of the mechanisms required under the 1973 Assets of Departed Asians Act to manage the properties and proceeds had been established.
The finance minister was supposed to keep a register of all properties or businesses declared by departing Asians.
“However, it was observed that no assets register was maintained. As a consequence, I was unable to verify the properties repossessed (4,063), properties sold (1,676) and properties unsold (3,226) as reported by management,” Muwanga states.
According to the Act, a common pool fund was supposed to be established through which all the money on the accounts of expelled Asians should be managed.
“However, there was no evidence that such a fund was established,” the report says. It quotes the accounting officer as saying that all bank accounts were frozen and transferred to the defunct Uganda Commercial Bank from where they suffered a currency reform which left the accounts at no value at all. But the Auditor General adds that he was unable to confirm these assertions.
In addition, the board, which was supposed to meet every month, did not meet once between 1997 and 2008, implying that there was no supervision.
Staffing was another problem. There was no accountant or cashier responsible for the preparation and maintenance of the books of accounts and the records, the report reveals.
“The absence of an accountant or cashier resulted into the legal manager handling finances. She could collect and bank revenue, write payment vouchers and authorise payments. In addition, an office messenger was entrusted with banking large sums of money both in cash and cheques,” the report states.