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Govt accountant defends sh7.5b controversial free zones land

By Andante Okanya, Edward Anyoli

Added 8th November 2019 12:58 PM

The commission is investigating what it calls a ‘mysterious payment’, in an already controversial inquiry into how Uganda Free Zones Authority (UFZA) conducted a purchase.

LAND   

KAMPALA - Government accounting Officer Betty Kasimbazi has defended the controversial sh7.5b Uganda Free Zones Authority (UFZA) Wakiso land purchase, saying it was sincere.

 
The Under Secretary at the finance ministry, made the emphasis yesterday at the land probe commission public hearing in the city suburb of Nakasero.
 
Lead counsel Ebert Byenkya explained that she had been cited as a key player in the hasty procurement of the 100-acre property on June 21 last year.
 
The commission is investigating what it calls a ‘mysterious payment’, in an already controversial inquiry into how Uganda Free Zones Authority (UFZA) conducted a purchase.
 
The land is also a subject of dispute, with two business partners Paul Bukenya and Eng. Dick Lutaaya, against the estate of Samwiri Kironde, with both claiming ownership. 
 
Lutaaya and Bukenya pocketed sh7.5b from the sale to UFZA. But the Kironde estate claims it is the rightful payee.
 
The duo gave law firm Katende, Ssempebwa & Company Advocates, power of attorney(authorisation) to negotiate the sh7.5b sale to UFZA last year.
 
Byenkya stated that indicators were that no background check was conducted to ascertain ownership validity. 
 
“I see a lot of cleaning up. Clearly, you wanted to get the deal over the line. I see the speed and apparent lack of attention to establish the facts. There seems to have been a sense of urgency to spend this money,” said Byenkya. 
 
But the undersecretary responded that she participated, albeit at the tail end. Kasimbazi explained that she acted with the utmost sincerity.
 
“The due diligence I did was to consult with all the agencies. The due diligence I did was to write to UFZA executive director and asked him whether the paperwork was proper. There was no speed. This thing had actually taken a long time,” answered Kasimbazi.
 
She emphasised that at the time of the transaction, the assurance from several government agencies, including the Solicitor General, Lands ministry, was a boost of confidence.
 
The Under Secretary said interaction with Lutaaya, was an additional layer of faith in the transaction.
 
Commission chairperson Justice Catherine Bamugemereire advised that the controversy should be a lesson for government officials to be alert.
 
“Land does not run away. Why didn’t you wait for the next financial year? Any question that raises a red flag is supposed to make you stop,” Bamugemereire remarked.
 
Dispute background
The land at Buwaya is registered as Busiro Block 35 Plot 483 and 326. UFZA intends to establish a trade hub, in a strategic location near Entebbe International Airport.
 
The land probe commission says UFZA did not conduct due diligence and proceeded to purchase the land last year, despite conflicting vendor ownership claims.
 
Last month, Privatisation and Investments State minister Evelyn Anite, petitioned the commission, accusing UFZA of fraud.
 
UFZA fact file
The entity’s official web portal states that the overall objective for the adoption of Free Zones in the country is to create an enabling environment aimed at enhancing economic growth and the development of export-oriented manufacturing.
 
It is also tasked with diversifying the country’s economic base, attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), generate employment, increase foreign exchange earnings, enhance technology transfer, skill acquisition/upgrading as well as create backward linkages. 

 

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