Parliament seeks inquiry into sale of 130 public companies

The sale of UCB in the early 1990s to Stanbic Bank was and continues to generate debate to-date. File photo

What you need to know:

Establishing facts. Parliament wants an inquiry to establish how more than 134 companies were sold and what the money was used for.

Kampala. Parliament is expected in the next few days to open a probe into allegations of corruption and collusion in the sale of more than 130 public assets under the controversy-ridden privatisation policy.
The inquiry seeks to establish whether there was undue political interference and other forms of manipulation in the privatisation process.
The probe committee will, among other things, track the sale and expenditure of billions of Shillings that accrued from the divesture of public companies.

The decision to investigate the dealings of the Privatisation Unit was mooted during the consideration of a new Bill that seeks to revive Uganda Development Corporation (UDC).
UDC will be an investment agency on behalf of government in partnership with the private sector to promote and facilitate industrial and economic development.
Government in the 1990s implemented the divestiture policy, as part of a wider World Bank’s economic reforms and recovery programme.
The objective was to reduce the direct role of government participation in the economy and develop a greater role for the private sector.

Some MPs attempted to block the passing of the UDC Bill last week, but Speaker Rebecca Kadaga guided that the new law be passed and a select committee on privatisation instituted tomorrow to dig up the details.
MPs had demanded full information on public assets formerly placed under Uganda Development Company.
A list of the assets and companies tabled before Parliament by Mr Michael Werikhe, the State minister for Industry, shows that more than 130 properties were sold to undisclosed Ugandans and foreigners.

Establishing status
However, MPs led by Opposition Chief Whip, Ms Cecilia Ogwal and Mr Eddie Kwizera of Bufumbira East demanded latest (ownership) information and the (sale) values for each of the 134 companies.
“We want to revive UDC but how much did we get from the sale of all these assets? Where is the money? What is the status?” Ms Ogwal said.
However, Mr Werikhe said people from the Finance ministry would “give us this information because they are the ones who know what happened”.
Mr Jim Mugunga, the Ministry of Finance spokesperson, said they had nothing to hide as “we have made disclosures to the Auditor General and those who bought public assets are known. If they want to know what happened the report is in Parliament”.

The inquiry, confirmed by the Parliament director of communications and public affairs, Mr Chris Obore, is expected to focus on the disputed sale of public enterprises such as Entebbe Handling Services, Uganda Commercial Bank, Uganda Grain Millers, Hima Cement, Nile Hotel, Apollo Hotel, Uganda Air Cargo and Steel Corporation of East Africa, among others.
Although most of the MPs have backed the planned inquiry, some have expressed fears that the current Parliament is unlikely to complete the probe of this stature, since its five-year term ends in May.

However, the unfinished work of the 9th Parliament can be re-introduced in the 10th Parliament by a resolution.
If Parliament votes to institute the select committee tomorrow, it will not be the first time the House is investigating allegations of corruption in the privatisation deals.
The late Tom Aisu Omongole (Kumi), in the 6th Parliament led a similar inquiry that investigated the fraud in the sale of Uganda Commercial Bank and other privatisation deals.
The 60-page report claimed that four ministers and one senior official had “derailed” the exercise.

The 1998 report uncovered the rot in the divestiture process and named Mr Sam Kutusa, Gen Salim Saleh, Mr Mathew Rukikaire, Mr John Nasasira, Mr Mayanja Nkangi and other government officials as having meddled in the sale of public companies.
The ministers, however, denied the accusations but the report led to the resignation of Mr Rukikaire as State minister for Privatisation at the time because of his handling of the divestiture of (Apollo Hotel) now Sheraton Kampala Hotel and UCB.

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