Following The Independentâ€™s story: â€œAYA Hilton on sale, Museveni fights to save itâ€ (Issue 34 p18-19) President Yoweri Museveni came out to defend the construction project. In an interview with The Independent, AYA Executive Chairman Mohammed Hamid explains the controversy surrounding the project and Mr Museveniâ€™s interest.
The Independent: Mr Hamid, your much-hyped Hilton Hotel project is up for auction after you allegedly failed to pay one of your lawyers Muzamiru Kibeedi his legal fee of Shs 2.4 billion?
Hamid: I donâ€™t know what is going on in the head of that man Kibeedi. He is a wily fellow who is conniving with some corrupt officials in the judiciary to rob me. First of all, Kibeediâ€™s role while I was negotiating that loan for this building from the South African bank was only notifying and certifyingÂ documents which cost Shs 50,000 but I was so generous to giveÂ him $3,000 which he signed for as the only and last payment for the work he did in that transaction. I am really shocked that he has the audacity to think that I can pay him Shs 2.5 billion. In fact am contemplating asking court to take that man to a high class mental hospital to ascertain his mental stability. There is no way any sane person could ask for such a figure. No lawyer on the planet earth has ever been paid that much. Even the distinguished lawyers I use in the United Kingdom for serious transactions do not cost more than 10,000 pounds.
So what is the way forward; is the hotel up for sell or what?
Not at all; you can see for your self, the building is going up, the builders are doing their work as usual and as far as we are concerned, Kibeedi is just a daydreamer. Besides we have gone to court and Justice Yorokamu Bamwine gave orders to stay the execution of the auction indefinitely until our appeal about Kibeedi is disposed of. We have a case against Kideedi of criminally denying having been paid and sabotaging our multibillion project. We met the Principal Judge Mr James Ogoola, a very fine man and he gave us very good advice on how to handle this entire saga.
How about your relationship with your bankers; the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, how much has the Kibedi controversy affected your relationship with them?
There is absolutely no problem with them. You must have seen them when the president came to supervise my project the other day. They are happy with my performance. Besides, I qualified long time ago when I acquired this loan. I have assets worth $200 million in this country. I am in coffee business, oil, wheat, biscuits and into transport. I own fleets and fleets of trucks. These guys know the person they are dealing with. I have a huge reputation and they can never be worried of me and the Hilton project. I must tell you that I am investing US$ 100 million in this Hilton project alone. Uganda is not going to be the same again when this project is complete I can assure you.
You have so far ignited a lot of controversy especially the way this prime piece of land was donated to you by President Museveni. What is your relationship with the president?
My relationship with President Museveni is that we have a shared vision. The vision of transforming this country to a fully-fledged industrial economy, create jobs and increase peopleâ€˜s incomes. Uganda is my proud country and there is nothing that will stop me from rendering my little effort to transform it.Â I will sooner than later complete this project and put all the skeptics to where they belong.
Most Ugandans have always known you as someone engaged in export and import business, what tickled you to venture into the service sector [hotel business]?
I was tickled into the hotel business by many of my business friends who are scattered across the world. Every time they came into Uganda they would get amazed by how beautiful Uganda is but wondered why there were no real five-star hotels to match this natural beauty. Take the example of Dubai which have since turned into a global destination for tourists and yet the country is all a desert. With our tropical climate, good food, good weather all throughout the year, if we combined well with President Museveni we can make this country another Dubai. The Hilton Hotel is going to set the standards for others to learn from. We are going to employ over 2,000 Ugandans, we shall be buying Ugandan products and obviously hundreds of thousands will both directly and indirectly benefit from this project.
Finally, can you tell us who are the AYA Group of Companies?
For a record, AYA is a name of my little sweet daughter and hence the name for my several business enterprises. AYA mills, AYA bakery, AYA biscuits, AYA investments and several others. I have 90% share control in all these. I have my other brothers but they are in their own business here in Uganda. I came into Uganda in 1989 from Sudan at the age of 14. I studied at Makerere University and I have since lived and invested in this country. Referring to me as a Sudaneseâ€™s businessman is wrong. I am a Ugandan, I carry a Ugandan passport, and so is my wife, all my children plus my other family members.