Inside departed Asians’ properties saga

Friday September 13 2019

By MISAIRI THEMBO KAHUNGU

PARLIAMENT- For two months now, the parliamentary Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) has unearthed the mess that has engulfed the departed Asians’ properties.

The probe team led by Makindye East MP, Mr Ibrahim Kasozi, has seen top government officials and renowned businessmen mentioned as having had a hand in the dubious acquisition of some of the properties the Asians left behind in 1972 when they were expelled by Idi Amin.

Much as the MPs are yet to interact with top government officials, some Ugandans of Asian descent have appeared before the committee. They are tycoon Muhammad Allibhai, Uganda’s deputy Ambassador to Italy Kassam Mumtaz and businessmen Praful Patel, Toshak Patel and Minex Karia.

They appeared on Wednesday to explain how they allegedly repossessed hundreds of properties whose former owners never returned to Uganda to claim repossession before 1993 as provided for by the Expropriated Properties Act, 1982. Mr Pradip Karia, the Director of Property Services, who is among those on the MP’s probe list, did not appear as the committee was told he was away in London.

These Ugandans of Asian origin, who are members of the Association of Expropriated Properties’ Owners Limited, told MPs that they repossessed the properties on behalf of the owners who authorised them through powers of attorney. They were given time to return to the committee with evidence of genuine powers of attorney, repossession certificates, list of properties they helped to repossess and their current status, and evidence of remittances of rental income to the owners.

Outstanding issues
Outstanding throughout investigations so far has been the issue of properties compensated through the government of India, the British High Commission and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

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The Departed Asians Properties Custodian Board (CAPCB), which has also been subject of investigation for alleged mismanagement of the properties that reverted to government, and Bank of Uganda have revealed to the committee that at least 460 properties were compensated.

When Daily Monitor scrutinised data provided by BoU, it was found that through UNHCR, government compensated 344 properties.
Through the British High Commission, the compensated properties were 115 but the available data does not indicate whether or not they were buildings whereas the same data indicates that Shs13, 415, 414.65 ($1,627,114.60) at the prevailing exchange rate of $1:Shs8.3 as of 1976 was paid through an agreement between Uganda and India.

However, while appearing before Cosase, Mr Allibhai, the chairperson of the Association of Expropriated Properties Owners Limited, claimed that only 19 elderly British-Asians were compensated fully by the government between 1994 and 1996.

“We also need to diffuse the lies by the Custodian Board and Bank of Uganda concerning the compensations. As far as we know, only 19 people were fully compensated and the rest of the money has never reached the owners,” he said.

Asked to present a list of those who received compensation, the association’s secretary general, Mr Muzamir Kibedi, said “the names appear in the report [submitted to committee]”.

In their submission to the committee, the association leaders claim that the government of Uganda failed to meet its obligation despite agreeing on a compensation amount during valuation of properties.

“Only 22.2 per cent of the total compensation agreed upon for the ‘Asians of undetermined nationality’ was in fact paid. Government could not fulfil its commitment even after it had screwed up the valuation process to the prejudice of the departed Asians. In any case, installment payment stopped after Idi Amin was ousted in 1979,” reads part of the submission.

They implored Cosase to seek proof from BoU to show that indeed the money was received by the owners of the 460 properties that are listed to have been compensated by the government.

The properties left behind by Asians
Figures: Different reports that include that of the Auditor General put the figure properties left behind by Asians at 8,965 whereas the report of James Mackoy, a technical consultant with DAPCB (1989-1994) estimates them to be between 9,000 and 10,000. The association said 4,063 properties were returned to their owners while 1,589 were fully paid for.

Of the 1,676 that government offered for sale through DAPCB, 87 were partially paid for, 116 are pending sale and 25 had their repossession certificates cancelled.

According to DAPCB, 2,440 properties have been issued with repossession certificates whereas 1,623 have repossession letters on the file. The properties are spread across the country.
mkthembo@ug.nationmedia.com

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