Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Several private business operators at Makerere University have petitioned the High Court to quash a decision by the administration to evict them. Through their umbrella body, the Makerere University Business Owners Association, they are challenging the eviction notice issued by the university on July 1st, 2022 on grounds that it is illegal, irrational and unreasonable.
The evidence before court shows that on June 30th 2022, Makerere University Secretary Yusuf Kiranda wrote to the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor in Charge of Finance and Administration, saying that the University considered the audit report on the estate and business operating on the campus and made some findings.
The copy of Kiranda’s letter, which Uganda Radio Network has seen, notes that it was established that numerous businesses were on the University campus including illegal vending activities and other businesses that do not relate to its core functions. The letter adds that several businesses operate in non designated spaces including building corridors and foyers and that as such, it was resolved that the campus needed to be cleared of business activities that do not relate to its core functions.
“To terminate all business activities at the University campus effective July 1st 2022 except for the companies contracted by the University to provide catering services to students within selected kitchens in the halls of residence and the souvenir shop under the Makerere University Endowment Fund,” reads Kiranda’s letter.
As a result, the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration, Professor Henry Alinaitwe on July 1st 2022 gave the business owners two weeks to cease operating from the University. Alinaitwe noted that failure to leave within that time, their merchandise would be confiscated and culprits charged with trespassing on campus. The affected businesses include canteens, stationery, mobile money stalls, shops, photo studios, photocopying machines, and restaurants among others.
However, the applicants whose association comprises about 300 members, contend that it is not true that some businesses were operating in nondesignated spaces, adding that the University doesn’t have the power to make a decision that affects their source of livelihood without their input or hearing from them.
That the applicants’ association members have been smoothly operating at the respondents’ premises for over 30 years, and have confidently borrowed loans from several financial institutions to support their businesses, constructed permanent and semi-permanent structures, established advance financial payment and credit provision of services with students that are still running,” reads the application.
In his affidavit accompanying the application, Julius Gumisiriza, one of the affected business operators notes that due to a lapse of time, the association member’s entire livelihood based on their businesses at the University premises has been made to believe that there is business continuity.
He argues that terminating their tenancy arrangement without being heard and being given sufficient time to prepare for their exist is illegal and irrational. Part of the evidence submitted to court shows that the applicants have been paying rent to the University and some of them pay rent ranging from Shillings 500,000 to 1.9 million monthly. They also have Tax Identification Numbers from the Uganda Revenue Authority.
They argue that the University has always demanded rent from them, which they have been paying except during the lockdown when the University was closed due to COVID-19. “I state that the applicant’s members’ businesses are still struggling to recover from the Covid-19 lockdown economic effects and evicting them out such a time without notice and or being heard is illegal, inconsiderate and irrational which must be condemned,” adds Gumisiriza ‘s affidavit.
Through their lawyers of Elgon Advocates led by Precious Nahabwe, the business owners are worried that the University is threatening to evict them at the time when the court is on vacation. They want court to declare the decision by the University Council to evict them without according them a right to be heard as illegal, irrational, unreasonable, procedurally improper and therefore null and void.
They also want an order restraining the University from implementing it’s decision. The court is yet to summon Makerere University to file its defense in the case before it can be fixed for hearing.