Tuesday February 2 2016

Buganda Bus Park ownership wrangles: Who is to blame?

Travellers walk through Qualicell Bus Terminal,

Travellers walk through Qualicell Bus Terminal, formerly known as Buganda Bus Park. Ownership wrangles at the Park have persisted for a number of years. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa. 

By Farahani Mukisa

Two principals, Charles Muhangi and Drake Lubega, have rolled on the ownership dispute for more than a decade now on one of Kampala’s busiest business centres.
Details seen by this newspaper reveal none of the two principals is willing to let go.
From just a travellers’ bus parking yard, Qualicell Bus Terminal, formerly Buganda Bus Park is alive with activity invoked by numerous malls in the centre of downtown Kampala.
It is indeed a fighting pit that has gathered all sorts of struggle oblivious to travellers, shoppers and (owners) and the petty hawking lot conducting business there.
Buganda Bus Park was established in the 1960s as a bus parking yard for upcountry travels within Buganda. However, it later took on a national outlook, accommodating all buses travelling to upcountry locations.

The bus park, which had operated with no major interruptions, was in around 2005, stripped off its innocence, sliding into an ownership wrangle between renowned sports-cum businessman Charles Muhangi and city tycoon Drake Lubega.
The park, which has since fallen prey to constant sealoffs, is torn between two powerful businessmen with each using different state agencies such as police, courts and State House to protect their interests.
But these orders (sealoffs), unknown to many, have been executed with ruthless interest, with the mind put on who is approaching the “right person”.
Police, courts and State House have all been sucked in issuing order-after-order in favour of one against the other.

For instance, on December 18, 2015, police, acting on a ministerial directive, sealed off the park with the order to reinstate Muhangi as the true owner.
The order, which was executed by Erasmus Twaruhukwa, a police officer attached to the office of the Inspector General of Police, sought to reinstate Muhangi, who on the orders of the then Attorney General, Peter Nyombi, had been thrown out.
In his December 17, 2015 letter to the commander of Kampala Metropolitan Police, Twaruhukwa said he was acting on a November 30, 2015 letter from the state minister for Lands, Sam Engola, which had asked police to provide security for Muhangi to repossess the park.

In the letter, Engola said he was enforcing a presidential directive, dated July 20, 2011. However, according to Lubega, a key member at the centre of the struggle, that presidential directive had been overtaken by events issued by numerous court resolutions over the matter.
Such is the back and forth struggle, which at one time informed the then Lands minister Omara Atubo to halt all developments at the park, ordering that the matter be resolved in court.

Before this, the park had, up to 2006, been managed by Uganda Bus Operators’ Association (UBOA) under a consortium of nine companies, including Lowi Roadways Ltd, Long Freighters Ltd, Kyn and Reyne Investments Ltd, Horizon Coaches Ltd, Kabonesa Investments Ltd, Traveler’s Choice Ltd, Hajji Asuman Jjunju and Sons Limited, UBOA Central Ltd and Global Technical Works Ltd, with each having varying shareholding.
However, on December 23, 2005, according to minutes seen by this newspaper, seven of the nine directors sold off their interests to Lubega and other agents therein.

Lubega, among others including city businessman John Ssebalamu, John Bosco Muwonge, Christine Nabukeera and Tom Smith Ssemuwemba, minutes indicate, bought off the property, but Muhangi disputes the alleged sale, saying: “I had the biggest shares in UBOA and I deserved the biggest pay if I had sold. But the land was fraudulently sold without my consent.”
Documents indicate Muhangi, at 240 shares, owned the largest shareholding. However, it is yet to be clear how the shares were computed.
Documents indicate all shareholders were paid for an agreed lease of the land for five years. But Muhangi, who, according to documents, was paid Shs3.6b, refutes the claims as fraudulent and possible connivance by other shareholders.
Asked about the documents bearing his signature, Muhangi is hesitant to comment on this particular detail.

Details show that whereas other shareholders were paid Shs5b through a court consent agreement on February 6, 2006, Muhangi, being the largest shareholder, was handled separately resulting into the Shs3.6b deal.
Interviewed about this detail Muhangi said: “I did not agree with the amount that was offered. This is a prime property. How can it go for that little money?”
He alleges there could have been possible connivance among other shareholders since they simply accepted to be paid off without involving qualified land valuers.

But related to this, Muhangi who had sued Lubega, UBOA and Kampala Capital City Authority, lost the case where he had accused the trio of fraudulent acquisition of this land.
In her ruling on August 9, 2007, Justice Mary Maitum held thus: “Although the applicant [Horizon Company owned by Muhangi] claims to have a majority shareholding in UBOA, this was contradicted.
I noticed that there were several shareholders in UBOA whose aggregate shareholding, combined, would outnumber the applicant.”
Subsequently, in a consent judgment, UBOA relinquished all powers and other obligations therein to the new owner(s) or tenants of the land.

In the agreement, Lubega and others (the new tenants) agreed to settle all existing liabilities with debts amounting to Shs1.101b drawn on companies; Robert S. Ssawa and Kobil for the services to UBOA and premium payment respectively.
“We injected a lot of money in rectifying and settling the encumbrances we found on the land. We have actually cleared all debts to the authorities. It is unfair for someone to start claiming what we have developed and legalised,” Lubega told this newspaper.

Sitting on 0.946 hectares, plots 48 up to 52 were in 2009, redistributed among five business personalities by Kampala District Land Board with Drake Lubega taking 0.465 hectares, Ssebalamu 0.219, Muwonge 0.076, Nabukeera 0.117 and Smith Ssemuwemba taking 0.069 hectares.
However, details seen by this newspaper from the land registrar indicate Ssemuwemba sold off his portion (0.069 hectares) to Drake Lubega driving the latter’s new ownership to 0.561 hectares.
The land, in a new title, which was issued by Kampala District Land Board under Kampala Capital City Authority, was again leased to the above personalities, not considering ownership changes, for 49 years with a condition to redevelop it.

But even with these new developments, Muhangi continues to dispute other arrangements on the land, insisting he was fraudulently deprived of his land.
However, Attorney General Fred Ruhindi directs that the status quo, in which Lubega is the sitting tenant, be maintained until the matter is resolved in the courts of law where several cases have been filed separately by Muhangi and Lubega.

On December 23, 2005, according to minutes seen by this newspaper, seven of the nine directors sold off their interests to Lubega and other agents therein.