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OTAFIIRE: I had no authority to give away Jinja government property

Otafiire appearing before the commission. PHOTO BY JULIUS BUSINGE

Kampala, Uganda |JULIUS BUSINGE | Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Gen. Kahinda Otafiire on Thursday appeared before the land commission of inquiry to defend his role in the illegal giveaway of government property in Jinja, Eastern Uganda.

According to information available before the commission, Otafiire, who was in 2011 the Minister of Tourism, Trade and Industry, ordered his junior staff – the Under SecretaryEmmanuel Olaunah – to write a letter of no objection to one Simpson Birungi, the proprietor of Birus Property Services, to pave way for fast processing of lease documents of the property in question.

While appearing before the commission on July 26, Olaunah said he wrote the letter related to plot 60-62 Alidina Road without doing thorough due diligence about the property because he was under pressure from the applicant (Birungi) and the Minister (Otafiire).

Otafiire admitted before the commission to having ordered Olaunah to write the letter of no objection after learning that Birungi was frustrated with the process of acquiring this property for redevelopment.

“…I called the permanent secretary and told him that our policy is…where there are buildings where they are dilapidated we should allow industrialists and entrepreneurs to develop these premises,” Otafiire said.

“For us our job was not to allocate; No. our job was to say, do you object to this property being given away…as to who got the property and what they did with the property was none of our business.”

When asked whether he thinks there was something that went wrong in the process of giving away this property, Otafiire said; “I am surprised that all the responsible bodies didn’t act big as they sound. Who is he [Birungi] to ignore all these authorities? If the police couldn’t handle who am I as Minister? The police is given mandate to ensure the rule of law.”

Otafiire said that even if the no objection letter was written, his ministry had no authority to do anything or giveaway the property. However, Otafiire said that now that he has more information about the matter, he would work with the commission and other government agencies responsible to get a solution.

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The Inspector General of Government, Irene Mulyagonja, the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, the Uganda Land Commission Chairman, Baguma Isoke and other top government officials have admitted before the seven member Lady Justice Bamugemereire commission that there were irregularities in the process of leasing out this property to Birungi.
They have promised to work with the commission to correct the errors made in the process.

According to information that is before the Wandegeya based commission of inquiry, the said property was illegally leased out to Birungi in 2011 without following proper procedure. It is said that the property belonged to government but was being managed by key government agencies including the Privatization Unit, the ULC and Jinja Municipal Council.

Until January 16, 2015 when the building on the plot was demolished, over 200 traders had conducted business there for the last 48 years. It is alleged that Birungi connived with some government officials in the mentioned agencies to fast process the lease documents to gain ownership rights at a paltry Shs 2.5 million, far below Shs 80 million that former tenants (traders) had offered for the same property. Birungi revealed that he paid Shs 70 million as commission fee to brokers who connected him to the property.

There was no agreement reached between Birungi and the traders in the process of demolishing the building.

Traders have since contested the demolition of the building and asked government to intervene so they get compensated for losing their merchandise during the demolition exercise.

It is because of these irregularities among others that forced the IGG to investigate the matter in 2013 and ordered cancellation of the lease. But this was never respected. Birungi has since put up a commercial building that houses 60 shops.

The building is housing tenants without an occupation permit from Jinja Municipal Council.
It is hoped that the recommendations being noted by the commission of land inquiry into this matter will deliver justice to the oppressed if implemented by government.

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