Councillors in Masaka Municipality have called for an audit into funds that the council generated from the sale of Mayor’s Gardens.
Sources within Masaka Municipal Council indicate that the developer, Mr Moses Kaliisa, a Masaka businessman, alias Muto, gave municipal officials Shs1.5b in exchange for the one-acre plot.
However, the money was never declared to the treasury nor banked on the general account.
Part of the said funds amounting to Shs150m, according to a section of municipal councillors, was earmarked for designing an architectural plan and structural drawings for the proposed new town hall, but the allocation was never approved by council.
Mr Joseph Mugerwa, a councillor representing Kimaanya Ward I, said the Masaka Town clerk, Mr John Behangane, together with the Masaka mayor, Mr Godfrey Kayemba Afaayo, should be held liable for the alleged misappropriation of funds.
“The mayor together with his technical team have kept us in the dark as public funds amounting to Shs50m were being withdrawn and spent without prior consent of councillors,” he said during an interview on Monday.
The misappropriation of funds first came to light early this month when councillors led by Robert Kambugo, a councillor representing Nyendo/Ssenyange Division, locked up the town clerk’s office, accusing him of conniving with the mayor to spend public funds.
This prompted the Masaka Resident District Commissioner, Mr Herman Ssentongo, to intervene, ordering the mayor together with his executive to give a clear accountability of the funds.
“Masaka Municipality is experiencing a serious problem, all the stakeholders are divided and most of the public funds are not accounted for,” Mr Ssentongo said
He said the purpose of disposing of the Mayor’s Garden was to build a new town hall, but two years later, nothing has been done.
The discontented councillors, who are 16 of the 23 councillors who form the municipal council, said their next step is to petition Lt Col Edith Nakalema from State House Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate the alleged corruption.
“We cannot sit back when public assets are being sold off without following the right channels,” Mr Mugerwa said,
The Masaka Town Clerk, Mr John Behangane, dismissed allegations against him, saying he has been in office for only three months.
“Those councillors are not fair, how can they blame mistakes that happened two years ago on me?” he asked.
Mr Behangane said all the public funds he has spent in his tenure have been accounted for.
“There was an emergency of paying allowances for councillors and lighting the town during the festival season and all the money I spent is accounted for,” he said.
He explained that the Mayor’s Garden was sold off to raise money to construct a new Masaka Town Council Hall, which was bombed during the 1979 liberation war after they failed to secure funds to put up another town hall.
Mr Afaayo said the money was used to pay a consultant firm to make designs for the Masaka town hall with the consent of the executive.
“I want to inform the councillors and RDC that the balance of the money we have is not enough start the town hall project,” he said.
He said the proposed town hall project will cost Shs68b.
But Masaka Municipality financial officer Sauda Namirembe said they only used Shs88m on the design for the town hall but could not offer accountability for the balance of Shs62m.
Police have since summoned Ms Namirembe to record a statement.
According to Mr Elias Bayiruka, the Masaka District criminal investigations officer, Ms Namirembe is being investigated for alleged fraud of Shs150m meant for municipal hall project said to be missing from the municipality coffers.
Before the developer fenced off the site, councillors had earlier opposed the deal, saying it is not backed by any council resolution.
Mr Mugerwa claims the plan to sell the Mayor’s Gardens was hatched by Mr Afaayo and some technical staff for selfish interests.
Land wrangles. Masaka District and municipal council authorities have in the past five years faced public criticism over illegal parcelling out of public land and open spaces to private developers.
Some of the properties so far sold off include; the children’s park, New Kumbu Estate, town clerk’s residence, public cemetery and a host of forest reserves.
In June 2015 , the High Court in Masaka issued an injunction suspending the district land board from conducting any transactions on land and properties owned or managed by Masaka municipal council .
This followed an application filed by some Masaka Municipal Council authorities challenging what they termed as continued irregular sale and allocation of the public land.