August 31, 2008

Ugandan MPs to Question Finance Minister Over 6m-Dollar Land Deal

Text of report by Sheila Naturinda and Mercy Nalugo entitled: "House summons six" published by leading privately-owned Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor website on 31 August, subheading inserted editorially

Parliament has summoned six people and one company named in the controversial National Social Security Fund [NSSF] land transaction. The six including Finance Minister Dr Ezra Suruma are required to appear before the parliamentary committee on Commissions, State Enterprises and Statutory Authorities to explain their involvement in the deal.

The said land was purchased in February at a cost of 11bn shillings [about 6m dollars] from Security Minister Amama Mbabazi and city businessman Amos Nzeyi.

The committee also plans to visit the said Temangalo land as part of their investigations to ascertain the exact number of acres bought.

"We know that the fund paid the vendors in two instalments a total of 11bn but we don't know for what amount of land because the fund's top managers also seemed not aware of what they have. We shall also ascertain that it is not true people were forced out of the land," Mr John Odit (Erute South, UPC [opposition Uganda People's Congress]) and chair of the committee, said Friday [29 August].

Throughout their four appearances before the committee, the NSSF top managers have failed to convince the committee as to the exact amount of land they purchased.

MPs also want to find out whether or not there was any influence peddling in the deal as has been speculated, and also how the fund got to know that the two vendors, Mr Mbabazi and city businessman Amos Nzeeyi had land to sell since they never advertised.

"When the deal was in transaction stages, Mr Nzeyi was selling the land after getting powers of attorney from Arma Ltd to transact business on their behalf. However, we would like to know how Mr Mbabazi (personally) ended up being the payee," Mr Odit said.

On Thursday, the fund's Managing Director David Chandi Jamwa tabled before the committee payment vouchers which showed that money was transmitted to a joint account, number 0010130115, of Mr Mbabazi and Mr Amos Nzeyi in Tropical Africa Bank.

"He has to appear here as Mbabazi the vendor of the transaction in question but not as a minister of government," the Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo said.

Meanwhile, the committee has so far seen documents showing that a land title in the names of Mr Mbabazi quotes only 99.3 acres of land as his, yet NSSF paid him for 109.22 acres.

On Wednesday during their third appearance, NSSF management indicated the actual total land size as indicated on the land titles and evaluation reports was 411.61 acres.

However, Mr. Jamwa said that actually the fund had bought 463.87 acres raising questions about the difference of 52.26 acres.

As for Dr Suruma, Mr Odit said: "We want him to tell us among other things how safe workers' money is under his ministry now that he has embarked on authorizing such expensive schemes with no budget allocations onto them."

Mr Jamwa and [NSSF] Board Chairman Edward Gaamuwa have told the committee that they held a meeting with the minister in his office where he verbally authorized them to proceed with deal.

Suruma and Mbabazi "partners"

It turns out that Dr Suruma is a partner of Mr Mbabazi and Mr Nzeyi in the National Bank of Commerce into which part of the 11bn shillings is said to have been injected.

Mr Odit said "the government valuer should come here and explain to us if there were any attempts they (NSSF) made to seek his audience as they alleged because if he refused, then he should know that he led to a loss of a lot of money that was paid for the services of the three contracted firms."

Knight Frank International, East Africa Consulting Surveyors and Associated Consulting Surveyors had valued the land at 14m shillings [about 8,000 dollars], 18m shillings [about 11,000 dollars] and 16.6m shillings [about 10,000 dollars] per acre, respectively - totalling up to an estimated 5.6bn shillings [about 3m dollars], 7.5bn [shillings, about 4.6m dollars] and 4.7bn [shillings, about 3m dollars], respectively. NSSF paid 26m shillings [about 16,000 dollars] for each acre.

He added that because Mr Jamwa indicated that the advice to pay Mr Mbabazi but not Arma Ltd, and also to ignore the services of the government valuer was given by the solicitor-general, the solicitor- general would also have to explain himself.

"And also in the event that the rules governing the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets [PPDA] were flouted, we feel they too (PPDA) should explain to us what actually happened," he said.

The committee will also hear from Akright. "Akright has for some time been sitting on the fence, let them come here and tell us what their interest in the whole deal," Mr Odit said.

Also to appear will be Mr Nzeyi whom MPs want to help them with evidence about how he secured the powers of attorney from Arma Ltd and if he never lost out since the payment was made to Mr Mbabazi.

"Because it has proved bizarre, the appointing authorities should not wait for our recommendations, they can go ahead and come in and maybe suspend the top managers so that as we investigate, more funds are not being used like they have shown," Mr Elijah Okupa (Kasilo, FDC [Forum for Democratic Change]).

Originally published by Daily Monitor website, Kampala, in English 31 Aug 08.

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