Tycoon Karim in the spotlight over Chogm money

Wednesday May 30 2012

A section of Imperial Royale Hotel that is

A section of Imperial Royale Hotel that is owned by Mr Karim Hirji. Photo by Faiswal Kasirye 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Imperial Royale Hotel proprietor Karim Hirji is under pressure to refund Shs4 billion in taxpayers’ money which the government advanced to him ahead of the Commonwealth conference in 2007.

This newspaper understands that Mr Hirji received the money in respect of advance bookings for the Chogm delegates but who later never turned up.

While other hotel owners, who similarly received advance payments, have since refunded the taxpayers’ money, Mr Hirji’s Imperial Royale and another hotel on Entebbe Road, now turned into a university, have not.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs accuses Mr Hirji of playing hide-and-seek over the money.

“Karim requested for negotiation but he keeps dodging the proceedings. We have now made a decision to go back to court because the arbitration in the Commercial Court is not working,” Foreign Affairs permanent secretary James Mugume said yesterday.

“We have not given up on the matter. This money must be recovered and we have already asked the Attorney General to help us recover the money from Mr Karim,” he added.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee chairman Kassiano Wadri yesterday told Daily Monitor that Mr Hirji must refund the principal and the interest accrued since 2007.

Imperial Royale Hotel received $2.6m (about Shs6.4 billion) from the government to guarantee accommodation. The hotel would recover the amount by charging the guests. Chogm guests were charged about $500 a night. However, Ambassador Mugume has since told PAC that the hotel was not ready for occupation when the meeting started and the guests were forced to find accommodation elsewhere.

The government had booked 217 of the 300 rooms at the Imperial Royale Hotel for journalists. Another 100 rooms were booked for the business community.

“The government paid for air,” PAC member Theodore Ssekikubo said. “We want this man to refund the money with interest. This businessman has been using taxpayers’ money since 2007 yet our people don’t have drugs. We are losing 16 pregnant mothers everyday and 320 people due to malaria. This money would have saved lives but one person is using it.”

Though Mr Hirji was not available for comment, when he appeared in PAC in March 2010, he said his hotel was ready for use and that he waited for delegates who never turned up. After this explanation, he was ordered to make a statement with the Criminal Investigations Department regarding all public funds he received from the government.