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Chamber of Commerce in rift over Global Fund cash

By Patrick Kagenda

As the Global Fund scandal nears a turning point following the conviction of Teddy Sseezi Cheeye for corruption and the list of suspects growing every other day, it has sucked in the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry over Shs 380 million received from the Global Fund to fight malaria, AIDS and TB.

The UNCCI National Treasurer Godfrey Kayongo Nkajja told The Independent: Since it was a requirement of the Global Fund that any organisation dealing with a large number of people accesses the money, we also got it as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. But how that money was used is beyond my jurisdiction.The best person to provide the answer to its use is the Chamber’s president Mrs Olive Kigongo.

All I can say is that the money was misused and it never reached the intended recipients. Fake accountability was made for the bigger amount but issues arose over the refund of over Shs 100 million he added.

He said there is brewing friction at the UNCCI over attempts to have the Chamber refund the money received from the Global Fund. “Why should the Chamber money be used to pay back money that was never used for the benefit of the traders? Two people used that money, so let them refund it themselves. I have refused to be party to this mess of the Chamber refunding that money.”

Bernard Bangirana, the UNCCI Chief Executive Officer and General Secretary, told The Independent that the Global Fund money was received before he assumed office but conceded it was abused.

“It was misused like else where. But to save the Chamber’s image we have decided to refund the unaccounted for Shs 100 million by paying it in three installments of Shs 30 million. We shall find a way of explaining to the Chamber members about using their money to refund the Global Fund.”Â

 When contacted for a comment John Twinomusinguzi, former secretary general of the Chamber, declined to comment on the ongoing wrangling at the UNCCI over the Global Fund money saying he left office by 2007 when the cash was received.

 But a board member who preferred anonymity said Twinomusinguzi`s feigned ignorance about the Global Fund money would not exonerate him.Â

Kasim Omar, the first UNCCI vice president too declined to comment on the issue.Â

 However Kayongo said that Ms Kigongo and a board member Steven Kabagambe have the appropriate explanation in regard to how the Global Fund money was used. The expenditure of the money was never discussed and approved by the chamber.

“The Chamber guidelines stipulate that anything above Shs 5 million should be passed after the Chamber has discussed and unanimously approved it,” Kayongo said.

He cited the renovation of the UNCCI building at Shs 400 million as one of the expenditures which were sanctioned without the approval of the board.

“Can you believe that the transfer of this property cost the Chamber Shs 230 million? Can you believe that a supplier of building materials was advanced  Shs 25 million and he just disappeared into thin air? Can you believe that the Chamber lost Shs 100 million in rent because of unilateral decisions taken without consulting with the board? The list is long, what I am telling you is just the tip of the iceberg.” Kayongo alleged that there is selective awarding of UNCCI contracts to particular bidders even for small tenders such as printing.Â

Efforts to contact Ms Kigongo were futile as she was reportedly in a meeting every time The Independent called on her. Kabagambe too could not be reached as his phone was off air every time we called him.Â

Last year the Chamber was embroiled in the sale of plot 12 on Johnston Street. The plot was formerly a property of African Trade Development Fund created by government in 1967. The Fund had 23 properties countrywide and all under the care of UNCCI which is an autonomous body of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) claimed the sale was illegal because two surviving founder members had placed a caveat on the plot challenging the legality of the current UNCCI executive.

KACITA’s claim was supported by the Privatisation Unit which is in charge of disposal of public enterprises. “The UNCCI people lied to the President that they were going to use the building on Plot 12 Johnston Street to develop the UNCCI and that it would be the headquarter of the trade body. But we are surprised to see it sold under pretext of paying tax arrears yet rent was being collected from tenants,” said Jim Mugunga, the spokesman of Privatisation Unit. Â

Presidential Advisor on Commerce Alhaji Tezikuba Sajjabi described the transaction over the plot as a “circus.” He said he was investigating why his order and that of court to halt the sale were defied.

 The plot and a two-storey building were sold off at $2,650,000 and Plot A on Kira Road was bought as a replacement at $1,300,000. The balance of $ l,350,000 is also contested and what it actually did is another story of its own.

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