But fight erupts as `Super 10’ run off with compensation monies
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | Muhammad Abdullah Besimira first went to South Sudan in 2007 on a job with his company, BMA Constructions and Fabrications Ltd. He says he got a deal to construct government buildings and ministries in Jonglei State in the Greater Upper Nile Province. At the time, South Sudan was still part of Sudan.
By 2010 Besimira’s company had accumulated payment arrears pending with the government but he kept slogging away, hoping he would be paid. At the time, many Ugandan business people were in the same spot. They had payment pending from the South Sudan government.
But then in 2011 South Sudan broke away from Sudan and in 2013 civil war broke out between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to his former deputy Riek Machar. Besimira and most of the business people fled back to Uganda.
“After the war, I was called back by the State Minister of Finance (South Sudan),” Besimira says. He resumed work and continued demanding payment. But he says he was always told the money the central government would send money to Jonglei would not be enough to enable him to be paid. Then in 2016 war erupted again. Besimira says he and thousands of other Ugandan traders were evacuated in trucks by Ugandan Army soldiers.
“That time, we were just picked and you could not leave with anything,” he says.
He never returned to Sudan. Instead, he and other Uganda business people have resorted to seeking compensation for money they lost.
He is part of an organisation called the Joint Action Redemption of Ugandan Traders in South Sudan. Its members did a range of services from construction to petty trade in South Sudan. This group includes those who were injured during the clashes and those who lost their loved ones.
Formed in 2008, it says the government of South Sudan owes them over $200 million (Approx.Shs740 billion). But in a major twist, they are now not asking for the money from the government of South Sudan but from the government of Uganda.
The arrangement is a result of an agreement signed on December 22, 2016 between the governments of Uganda and South Sudan. In the agreement, the government of Uganda agreed to pay a group of Uganda traders, now called the Super 10, US$41 million (Approx.Shs150 billion) that South Sudan agreed to reimburse. It was also agreed that a joint verification team consisting of officials from both Uganda and South Sudan would be formed to verify or confirm all other claims for subsequent settlement.
Parliament, as required by law, adopted the agreement on April 03, 2018. But it added an addendum to the agreement that included another “additional verified 23 Uganda -South Sudan traders”. It also added that the joint verification exercise by the government of South Sudan and Uganda “continues until all claims are conclusively handled”. That appeared to have left the door open for new claimants to enter and might explain the many lists of claimants.
The matter became heated after Parliament in May approved payment of Shs947 billion to 82 Ugandan companies that supplied goods and services to South Sudan. Apparently, the government of South Sudan has approved payment of Shs778 billion to 40 companies and Shs169 billion to another 42 companies.