Shs500Bn Currency Center Deal Splits BoU Bosses
By John V Sserwaniko
Consensus has continued to elude the Shs500bn project by Bank of Uganda (BoU) to construct a currency center in Masaka town.
Area Mayor Kayemba Afaayo says the currency center will be part of a Shs500bn complex BoU is constructing on Plots 15-17 Birch Avenue.
To him the project will permanently change the scenery of Masaka town and create many job opportunities for the youth and thereby enhancing the area’s development.
To his critics led by Masaka LC5 Chairman Jude Mbabali, Afaayo stands accused for conniving with BoU top officials, VP Edward Sekandi and others “to destroy Masaka’s only remaining open green belt.”
The matter proved divisive during the Greater Masaka Tabamiruka session last Friday when the crowd heckled speakers who opposed the project.
Indeed Mbabali is supportive of civil society activist Charles Kasibante who is the complainant in the January 6th 2016 Criminal Case No. 13 of 2017 that the Masaka Chief Magistrate sanctioned against BoU deputy governor Louis Kasekende.
The disputed Golf Course land measures 60 acres and Kasibante wants Kasekende prosecuted for spearheading BoU acquisition of the land well knowing tycoon Asaph Mukalazi (owner of nearby Laston Hotel) was legally not mandated to sell it to BoU.
Documents relating to the criminal case show Mukalaazi’s lease ownership of the land ceased when he failed to comply with lease conditions.
Mbabali and Kasibante argue Mukalazi forfeited his right in the land once he failed to construct a hotel worth over Shs1bn before May 31st 2010.
To them this failure was a breach of the lease agreement extinguishing Mukalaazi’s right.
They also contend the condition was to strictly erect hotel facilities and not the currency center BoU is putting up.
The duo therefore argue the BoU boss should stand trial for knowingly spearheading the BoU acquisition of the land from Mukalazi who had no authority over the land including transferring his interest to a 3rd party. Mbabali, who has been actively character assassinating Dr. Kasenene on social media, says the project is unpopular with the grass root and has been rejected by both Municipality and LC5 councilors.
“Instead they want Masaka’s only remaining green belt preserved for recreation,” he says.
“It’s Mayor Kayemba, the RDC [Joel Walusimbi] and town clerk working to deprive us of this land. Kasekende is hostile and very uncooperative. I have called him several times in vain,” Mbabali said when asked whether he had tried dialogue before rushing to court or mobilizing the locals against the project.
Mayor Kayemba defended the project saying it’s rooted in approval processes that started decades ago when DP Mayors still ran Masaka.
He says in the late 1990s when DP’s Expedito Gitta was Mayor, the Municipality voted to change the land use from a Golf Course to a Central Business District to fast track Masaka’s development.
He says this land use change was ratified by Local government ministry as required by law.
The BoU says in a statement that the IGG subsequently cleared the project confirming BoU’s ownership of the land.
Kayemba corroborated this information. He says subsequent DP Mayors like Semogerere and Tibyasa Matovu consolidated what Gitta had started on years before he [Kayemba] became Mayor.
“Under my reign we only cleared their [BoU’s] building plans otherwise everything else, including BoU’s acquisition of the land in 2006, was done long before I came to office,” said Kayemba.
“My colleagues are just politicking because what type of Mayor would I be if I resisted a government project worth Shs500bn coming to my area? That would be anti-development. They [DPs] want to oppose everything I stand for just to fail me because they falsely think I’m standing for Hon Mpuuga’s MP Seat. They fear I can win because I’m too popular and want to deny me that legacy [being Mayor whose time saw 500bn project come to Masaka].”
He also faulted DP politicians of anticipating kickbacks when such a project comes to the town.
“But there is no money in this. We have been having meetings here and in Kampala and we have been buying our own fuel to go for those BoU meetings. There is no way government can bring a project and also bribe local leaders to accept it,” Kayemba argued.
He says everybody else, except some DPs, is for the project. “Even the local people are very excited,” says Kayemba adding critics aren’t being realistic “because the whole land is 60 acres and the project covers less than 1 acre.”
He said locals are happy the place has been harbouring criminals “and costing us a minimum of Shs12m annually to slash it and keep out thieves.”
Kayemba says many DP elders who know the history actually support the project and are against Mbabali.
He adds the councillors have no role in such matters “because I only inform them out of courtesy otherwise it’s an executive function.”
He also claimed its 46 years since golf was last played there, a claim Golf Union President Johnson Omollo rejected as untrue. He says there is a difference between Golf played for socializing and that played for competition.
“Competition golf was last played there in 1983 and social golf was last played there in 2009,” Omollo says.
He attributes this to loss of membership and lack of logistics to keep the Golf Course active.
“But we now have funds to rehabilitate all the Golf Courses in Uganda having started with Mbale and Fort Portal. Masaka is next starting next month February.
“We have the money,” said Omollo who has written numerous letters on the matter.
He disagrees with Kayemba view that the less than 1 acre being used by the BoU project is too small to affect golf activities.
“That is not true because once you decimate that place even by a quarter acre, it will be something else. It ceases to be a Golf Course. But I exonerate the Mayor on one thing this irregular transaction existed way before he came to office.”
He said it’s not just Mbabali and the Golf Union defending the Golf grounds.
“Even the local people want it preserved because they use it for recreation and besides the BoU as a corporate citizen as a corporate duty to preserve environment which is also a big theme in NRM Manifesto,” Omollo said.
Regarding the way forward he revealed “we believe in dialogue and amicable resolution of this matter.”
Consequently a committee comprising of ex- Golf Union Presidents has been named to engage the BoU management to hammer out a consensus.
Jim Muhwezi leads the committee members being Kiwanuka Kiryowa, ex-IGP John Kisembo, lawyer Nester Byamugisha & John Egadu.
BoU BOSSES SPLIT
Mbabali, who is no doubt working with some disgruntled Central Bank bosses who feel side-lined from the juicy deal, told us he had credible information Governor Mutebile had reservation about encroaching on the Masaka Golf Course to erect the currency center.
“Governor Mutebile is a Golfer and doesn’t want to interfere with golf spaces. His subordinates are just taking advantage of his busy schedule to have their way but inside BoU there is serious debate. This is why we are certain we shall win this war,” said Mbabali.
We were unable to speak to Mutebile’s Deputy Louis Kasekende as he never took our repeated calls and didn’t reply text messages.
However, the January 4th 2017 media release shows the BoU management position.
The release shows that BoU is the registered lease owner of the land since 2006 as certified by IGG; BoU ownership was in 2001 renewed by Masaka District Land Board and that Masaka Municipality duly approved the building plan for the multi-billion currency center complex to be ready early next year.
The statement urges the community to support the construction project which has irreversibly kicked off.