Chaos As 10 Top Gov’t Bosses Fight For 40bn WB Project
By John V Sserwaniko
A war has erupted between Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) boss Dan Bemanya Twebaze (Registrar General) and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) Executive Director Lawrence Byensi.
At the center of it all is the desire to account for the money being imprudently spent from the $10m (Shs36bn) World Bank (WB) offered Uganda under the Competitiveness & Enterprise Development Project (CEDP).
There are efforts to disregard the over Shs3.5bn UIA has so far invested in the Business Registration System (BRS) which is an online solution aimed at eliminating bureaucracy and generally improve Uganda’s competitiveness as a favorable investment destination.
We have seen correspondences in which Byensi says cabinet exclusively gave UIA the assignment to build the e-Biz web portal to provide e-solutions to investors seeking to electronically access and utilize investments/business registration and licensing-related information in Uganda.
The relevant Cabinet Minute was captured under Cabinet memo no. 8 of 2014. In that Cabinet meeting it was resolved UIA becomes the One Stop Center (OSC) for investors.
At that time the President was angry that investors were suffering going to many different agencies (MDAs) as they sought to register and operationalize businesses in Uganda.
The different MDAs to which investors had to separately go included URA, UIA, URSB, Ministry of Internal Affairs (specifically Directorate of Citizenship Immigration & Control) for things like work permits, NEMA for EIAs, Lands Ministry for land title verification and KCCA for those seeking to operate in Kampala.
Museveni wanted this unnecessary red tape eliminated as many investors were complaining to him about the resultant costly delays it was causing them.
In the 2014 memo Cabinet wanted the e-Biz solution (or BRS) expeditiously accomplished to cater for investors that were unable to physically walk in to seek business registration and licensing-related services from UIA’s One Stop Center (OSC).
Under the arrangement, the e-Biz web portal had to be put in place to enable the seven (7) MDAs electronically interface in an integrated way while eliminating duplication. At a cost of over Shs3.5bn (so far), the Norwegian Registers Development (NRD, an IT consultant firm) was engaged by UIA to build the e-Biz solution/web portal aimed at electronically integrating the business registration-related services offered by the 7 MDAs.
At the prompting of OPM, James Saka’s NITA-U was engaged as project manager to avail UIA with technical expertise required to supervise what NRD was doing. NITA-U was specifically suitable because of the vast experience it had garnered overseeing implementation of the e-government project integrating all government ministries and MDAs.
Project name was “Implementation of an Integrated One Stop Center for investment registration and licensing.” Finance Ministry was designated as the Project sponsor, UIA as project owner and NITA-U as Project Manager.
The e-OSC solution governance structure was also agreed and NITA’s involvement in implementing the e-OSC solution was duly approved by the Finance Ministry which mothers UIA.
NRD’s work was flagged off in January 2016 by Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere who was then Minister of General Duties in OPM. One of the quick achievements UIA instantly registered through NRD included online Business Name Reservation (BNR) and online land title verification by prospective investors coming to Uganda.
A charter was subsequently signed specifying the role each of the 7 relevant MDAs would play in accomplishing the task. As of January 2017 everything was going well and Keith Muhakanizi, in his capacity as PS/ST told one of the implementation committee meetings that government was happy that 85% of the job had been accomplished in such a short time.
He promised to ensure UIA gets more funding in the budget from the current Shs5bn it gets annually. It must be clarified that the Shs3.5bn so far injected in the e-OSC solution was raised from money UIA collects as Non-Tax Revenues (NTRs).
This is mostly in ground rent off the industrial park land and licensing fees investors pay. At the time Muhakanizi commended UIA, the unaccomplished project deliverables (comprising 15%) included pending completion of URA online TIN registration, NIRA’s online ID verification, COIN/KCCA online trading license application and Immigration Directorate’s online visa/work permit application.
The accomplished 85% was comprised of the following: modules that David Bahati launched in December 2016 relating to online Business Registration System (BRS whose user was URSB), online land title verification, online Business Name Reservation, online investment licensing, online interface regarding visa/work permits, digitalization of NEMA’S EIA processes and digitalizing KCCA’s interface system online etc.
THINGS FALL APART
What shocked many were the utterances made by Muhakanizi’s deputy Patrick Ocailap (DPS/ST) in a January 2017 subsequent meeting with stakeholders. “He spoke in a way that showed he wasn’t on the same page with his boss Keith on this matter.
His utterances showed the 85% so far accomplished wasn’t being recognized and all the work UIA had done was going to be duplicated by URSB under the guise of One Stop Shop [OSS] whose contents are exactly similar to the e-OSC solution UIA had spent billions putting in place,” said a source showing the confusion escalated.
The Ocailap meeting seemed to endorse the spending of Shs600m from the Shs36bn WB offered for CEDP whose total worth is $10m (approximately Shs36bn). Sources say the unusually tense Ocailap, while chairing the meeting, refused any reference to Muhakanizi’s earlier recognition of the 85% accomplishments UIA had made on its e-OSC solution.
It was clear officials wanted the same work be repeated ostensibly to enable officials account for the Shs600m that had so far been spent from WB/CEDP’s $10m.
“Everybody was wondering why we were duplicating services already offered by the e-biz portal solution on which UIA had already spent billions,” says a source representing one of the 7 MDAs.
“We were visibly all intimidated but people kept murmuring why are we squandering World Bank/CEDP money duplicating work [e-OSC solution] on which billions of GoU money had already been spent.”
It emerged to many MDA reps that some people were determined to spend WB’s Shs600m to create something called One Stop Shop (OSS) which would apply to or integrate all the 7 agencies (including UIA).
“We kept arguing OSS is clearly a duplication of what is already available under e-OSC solution accomplished by UIA years ago but we weren’t listened to,” recalled a source.
“The new position was UIA should move expeditiously and organize the formal launch of e-OSC solution and subsequently hand it over to URSB whose experts would merge it with OSS.”
At that Ocailap meeting some officials vehemently opposed this on grounds this wasn’t the proper way to work but they were cowed into silence.
Leaked correspondences separately authored by URSB’s Bemanya and UIA’s Byensi show the President somehow learnt of this feuding and was very angry about it. In a subsequent cabinet meeting, Museveni wondered why anybody would doubt UIA’s capacity to be a One Stop Center for investors and to have the last word on investment-related matters.
Museveni wondered why URSB and NIRA were seeking more work when they still have backlog regarding their core mandate of business, birth and death registration. In one of his December 2016 letters, Bemanya furiously says URSB had gone through Muhakanizi to clarify OSS/OSC-related mandate to the President.
He also refers to his Minister the indefatigable Kahinda Otafiire’s efforts to get Museveni preside over a public function at which URSB would be endorsed as the sole authority to control all matters relating to OSS/OSC-notwithstanding the alleged costly duplication.
There are indications Byensi’s UIA had also been running to the President urging him to call URSB to order since the days of ex-ED Frank Sebowa. Sources say the feud regarding this OSS/OSC duplication saw Finance Ministry powerful officials gang up on Sebowa resulting into his exit mid last year.
He was replaced by Byensi who continues to be backed by his BOD in his wars with URSB and powerful finance Ministry interests.
KOLOLO LAND FEUDS
We are reliably informed the wars between some Finance Ministry technocrats and UIA exceed the OSS/OSC-related duplication that is already costing government billions of shillings. “There is the issue of UIA prime land in Kololo.
Having been blocked by IGG from buying Georgina building to house the OSS/OSC secretariat, the powerful guys resorted to pressurizing UIA to surrender its Kololo land to have a 5 storied building erected there whereby UIA would have only one floor and even have the title split into two,” said a source deeply knowledgeable with this row.
“The idea is to house OSS/OSC Secretariat there and one floor will be leased to the collecting banks but the rent shouldn’t go to UIA even when it’s the owner of the Kololo land. These are things Frank Sebowa resisted and the powerful guys reacted by forcing him out of UIA,” argued a source wondering why those concerned can’t proceed spending and accounting for CEDP/WB’s $10m without stampeding UIA in their things.
“Why must UIA be used to justify spending of this CEDP/WB money on matters that are clearly duplicated?” ranted a UIA BOD member adding that UIA has the capability to autonomously develop its Kololo property.
UIA acquired the Kololo property using proceeds from sale of its land on Kampala road. We are told stung by the extent to which these rows with Finance Ministry technocrats have crippled UIA, Museveni is considering making UIA more autonomous.
The wars regarding the OSS/OSC duplication have lately escalated so much that NITA-U boss James Saka was even expelled from the related meetings. Saka, who was loathed for vehemently opposing wasteful duplication, has since been replaced by someone considered more friendly and cooperative. This new person was allegedly identified by powerful Peter Nyategize, the CICs/CEDP Project Manager.
Corroborating on this Saka issue, a source said: “Don’t even talk of the Finance Ministry. It will be improper to blame them because they mother UIA.
The problem is URSB insisting on squandering government resources duplicating work already put in place by UIA serving exactly the same agencies.” Efforts to get URSB boss Dan Twebaze’s comment failed after our phone calls went unanswered.
He didn’t reply text messages either. However, a source from the Justice Ministry (which supervises URSB) strongly defended Twebaze as follows:
“UIA has no moral authority to say anything. They had 20 years but failed to accomplish that OSC project. They spent billions and had nothing to show and they are now ashamed Twebaze’s URSB has delivered the project in much shorter time at only Shs600m. Being the first point of registration, URSB is well placed for that project. They took it up and they have done it well and thereby saving GoU the embarrassment UIA had caused us for over 20 years. They [UIA] are now envious of URSB and that is why a lot is being said.”
Critics said both Twebaze and Byensi are to blame because their ineptness has cost the tax payer.
“In order to catch the President’s eye the two organizations are busy massively advertising the two programs [OSS & OSC] presenting them to the public as different yet in actual sense they are one and same. It’s nothing but duplication and its GoU losing money,” ranted a source.
Whereas URSB has been everywhere on TV, newspapers and radio advertising its OSS, UIA last Thursday expensively sponsored newspaper supplements demonstrating the workability of its One Stop Center. This was aimed at countering the visibility wealthier URSB has been enjoying for months now.
The investors now remain confused between UIA and URSB: offering exactly the same facility only presented with different names.
“They [UIA] are busy saying this is our mandate but what does the country want: the mandate owner or the service being delivered? They failed and should keep quiet forever,” the Justice Ministry source furiously said of UIA’s ineptness.
BEMANYA, BYENSI FIGHT
We have seen letters in which Byensi and URSB’ Dan Twebaze Bemanya sharply traded insults. In one December 2016 letter Byensi accuses Bemanya of being “diversionary” regarding the alleged OSS/OSC duplication. The two exchanged many letters in December 2016 as Museveni was expected to publicly launch the One Stop Center (OSC).
In his 2/12/2016 letter, Twebaze asked UIA to hand over control and management of OSC to URSB without any further delays. Byensi replied there is no way UIA would surrender the project to URSB after investing lots of financial and human resources facilitating Norwegian firm (NRD) to develop the integration technology.
Byensi reminded Twebaze its UIA that ensured NRD delivered on 28/11/2016 as per the contract. Byensi argued despite its small budget, UIA had prioritized and invested billions into the BRS project and wouldn’t surrender.
“The program [launching] will therefore proceed as planned and in no way does it conflict with the planned launch of the OSS/One Stop Shop under the CEDP project as stated in your letter,” Byensi boldly wrote almost insulting Twebaze who had previously written contesting a public launch UIA had planned with the President in attendance.
In the end Deputy Finance Minister David Bahati presided over on the president’s behalf. URSB officials allegedly rang other MDAs heads urging them to shun UIA’s launching ceremony.
Byensi accused Twebaze of working to frustrate Cabinet directives mandating UIA to handle “and this has progressively been achieved both physically and electronically.”
He adds: “You will also recall that there were seven agencies that were identified [by cabinet] to start up the OSC for investors and URSB is one of them. In light of the fact that UIA is a One Stop Center for investors and not a beneficiary institution of the CEDP project [whose membership includes URA, URSB and KCCA], we find it diversionary for UIA to set up a stall at the One Stop Shop (OSS). However, we appreciate the efforts of the CEDP towards formalization of companies and expansion of tax payer base in Uganda,” Byensi’s 5/12/2016 two page letter reads in part.
“Please note that the Executive Director of UIA has not been invited to any meeting which discussed the issue of posting officers to OSS under the CEDP arrangement. In the past there have been meetings held under the CEDP project where UIA is not party. We once again invite you to attend the BRS launching function.”
Byensi’s letter was copied to 11 different offices concerned with the project. In an earlier letter, Twebaze had accused Byensi of hijacking his/URSB’s own initiative to invite the President to launch URSB’s OSS in December 2016.
Twebaze revealed that during a State House meeting, the URSB (had through PSST Keith Muhakanizi) informed the President about the progress made under OSS and what it would achieve for Uganda.
He wondered where Byensi was getting guts to invite him (Twebaze & other MDAs) to launch his (Byensi’s) One Stop Center well knowing what it was seeking to achieve was already being done under URSB’s One Stop Shop (OSS).
He disclosed what Museveni was planning to launch was OSS and not UIA’s OSC. We established URSB set up OSS costing Shs600m got from the $10m WB-funded CEDP program housed at the Finance Ministry.
Bemanya also informed Byensi how his URSB line Minister Kahinda Otafiire had already written a letter inviting the President to launch both BRS and OSS on 19/12/2016. Byensi had on 29/11/2016 written a letter inviting Bemanya Twebaze to attend a similar BRS launch and hand over which UIA was organizing.
This is how Bemanya contemptuously challenged Byensi on this very issue: “We [URSB] find it inappropriate for UIA to carry out a launch of the Business Registration System which would in effect pre-empt the expected impact of the launch by His Excellence the President. We therefore request you to consider your program accordingly.”
He added: “The PS/ST has called a meeting of the CEOs of all the relevant MDAs that are expected to have a presence in the OSS. The agencies are expected to have settled in the OSS before the launch date.
UIA is one of the key agencies in the OSS and we are looking forward to your attendance of the meeting as well as your establishment of a desk at the OSS and your continued support of this government effort.” Twebaze Bemanya’s OSS is housed at 1st floor of Georgina House which houses URSB.
In his letter Bemanya asked Byensi to recognize OSS as a legitimate government effort and have his UIA submit to its authority, something Byensi furiously protested in his 5/12/2016 letter insisting UIA had its own BRS system and has nothing to do with Bemanya’s OSS.
Quoting the 2014 Cabinet Memo, Byensi insisted UIA is mandated to operate the OSC comprising the 7 MDAs (URSB, Lands Ministry, URA, NEMA, Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control (DCIC)/MIA and KCCA).