By Chris Kiwawulo
Top managers of ActionAid Uganda are on the spot over land that they purchased in Seguku on Entebbe Road, allegedly under dubious circumstances.
This came to the fore after an official of the organisation petitioned the international secretariat in South Africa, arguing that the land had been bought at an inflated cost, without following proper procedures, and that part of it was in a wetland.
The one-acre piece of land is on plot 2497, Block 629 Kyadondo, bordering Fresh Cuts Meat processing Company in Sseguku, Wakiso district.
ActionAid is a global movement of people working to further human rights for all and alleviate poverty.
Specifically, the petition points at the organisation’s country director, Arthur Larok and finance director Edward Iruura as having been behind the purchase of the land at sh600m, yet the actual value was sh200m at the time. Sources said the land was reportedly later valued at sh350m by Adriko and Company Associates, a law firm.
The petitioner noted that procurement procedures were flouted and that the director of human resources, Christine Aboke, received an unexplained sh1m from the land seller, Joel Kaswarra.
“The ActionAid policy dictates that purchase of such property be done by the procurement committee, but it was handled by the country director and finance director,” revealed a source.
As a result, the head of internal audit at the ActionAid International secretariat, Lanre Amao, tasked the audit department at ActionAid Uganda, led by David Tibekinga Mbarekye, to carry out an investigation.
However, before Mbarekye could probe the matter, Larok petitioned Amao, saying Mbarekye could not investigate management of which he was part.
He said it would be conflict of interest. As a result, Amao took up the investigation. When contacted for comment, Larok admitted that he protested Mbarekye’s probe into the matter because Mbarekye was also a member of the central management team.
trueLarok also admitted that the purchase did not go through the procurement committee, but added that the board endorsed it.
“The board agreed that ActionAid Uganda sells off its properties in Mubende and Apac districts to build its head offices. The board set up a committee, which included me and Iruura, to search for land and we got at Sseguku,” explained Larok.
He admitted that part of the land was in a wetland, but explained that the board had negotiated with Kaswarra who gave them an alternative place.
Larok further explained that the price variations came about when they contacted various valuers to find out the value of the land.
“Kaswarra’s asking price was sh700m. So, we commissioned a valuer who put the land value at sh350m. We commissioned another one who put it at sh650m, and a third one who put it at between sh580m and sh650m. We went back to the landlord, negotiated and we settled for sh600m,” he explained.
Although Aboke did not answer her cell phone when contacted over the sh1m she reportedly received, Larok admitted that Aboke received the money as a Christmas gift from Kaswarra.
He was quick to add that she declared the money and it was receipted. It also emerged that ActionAid was in the process of paying sh25m to a lawyer, identified as Bill Mawawi, for legal ‘support’ towards the land agreement and transaction, a development Larok confirmed.
Sources revealed that when the central management team members were called to witness the signing of the land purchase agreement, the particulars of the land, like the title were not presented, which was against the ActionAid policy.
However, Larok dismissed this as untrue, saying duplicates of the title were presented.
Mbarekye’s troubles begin
Mbarekye, who was part of the central management team, said his troubles and eventual dismissal started when management suspected that he was the whistle-blower, when he instituted investigations into improper recruitment and purchase of property in the organisation.
“When I presented these issues before them, they started treating me as a threat and that is when claims of grievances against me started. But when I asked for the written grievances and the complainants, I was told that it was only the finance director complaining and still the written grievances were not showed to me as per the human resource policy,” said Mbarekye.
ActionAid Uganda published Mbarekye’s picture in the press on Thursday, saying he was no longer their employee and warned the public against dealing with him on behalf of the organisation.
Mbarekye said he got misunderstandings with the top management after he inquired about an employee called Jacob Sekajja, who was recruited after he had been sacked from an ActionAid partner organisation over misconduct.
Documents show that Sekajja had been sacked from Kapchorwa/Bukwo Women in Peace Initiative (KWI p I) in August 2013, where he was a project officer.
He was recently recruited as the programmes officer for the European Commission-funded End Violence against Children project.
In e-mail exchanges seen by New Vision, Aboke asked Mbarekye why he wanted Sekajja’s recruitment interview report, while Larok asked him to stop querying the recruitment process.
Mbarekye also complained that he was not given a fair hearing as per the human resource policy, arguing that the first options of peer settlement of grievances were overlooked.
Larok said since the complainant was Iruura, who was then holding the docket of the human resource manager in acting capacity and was unwilling to ‘talk peace’, he had to intervene and take a decision.
Larok, however, declined to comment on whether it was proper for a finance director (Iruura) to act as the human resource manager.
Larok also denied that Mbarekye’s questioning of Sekajja’s recruitment caused his dismissal, insisting that his dismissal was due to grievances raised by senior colleagues.
International Auditor Responds
After investigations, Amao compiled a report exonerating Larok and Iruura, although he did not come to Uganda during investigations. Mbarekye has since protested the report, saying he will take up the matter with audit professionals and labour institutions.
Asked whether it was proper to write a report from South Africa, without visiting Uganda, Amao said: “The investigation was carried out in the best possible way as I had access to all the information I needed to reach a conclusion. I interviewed staff via skype and e-mail and some chose to be interviewed from home. There was no reason to believe the investigation was compromised in any way.”
Amao said he engaged with the whistle-blower to provide more information regarding the wrongdoing, but this did not come through. “It is simply not enough to claim that the piece of land was worth less than (what) was paid for it.
This needs to be backed up by evidence and from what we know about the lack of proper regulation around the sale of land in Uganda, it will be difficult to get that kind of evidence.
ActionAid Uganda obtained independent valuations from experts, which I relied upon,” Amao added.
He said Mbarekye’s dismissal was not linked to the investigation over the land purchase, but was due to gross misconduct.
Whereas Larok said he rejected Mbarekye when he was chosen to investigator the allegations, over conflict of interest, Amao said it was Mbarekye who did not want to get involved.
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ActionAid sacks whistle-blower over land scandal