What you need to know:
- Authorities say India had withdrawn the offer to build the Mahatma Gandhi International Convention and Heritage Centre due to failure to find a suitable piece of land for the project.
Uganda has lost a Shs56.8b grant the Government of India had offered for purposes of constructing an international convention centre, the Sunday Monitor has learnt.
Officials at India’s High Commission in Kampala declined to comment on the matter, but the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Mr Tom Butime, told Sunday Monitor on Friday that India had withdrawn the offer.
Mr Butime blamed the development on a lethargic approach to the process that would have enabled the government to acquire land for the project.
“We did not handle the matter as fast as we should have because of a land problem,” Mr Butime said.
The development comes barely months after Finance Minister Matia Kasaija confessed to the Government of Uganda not having cash to construct a convention centre. This is as it prepares to host the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) next year.
The offer was announced on July 25, 2018 as Mr Shri Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, concluded a two-day state visit to Uganda.
In a speech to Parliament, Mr Modi announced that the proposed $15m (Shs56.8b) facility was to be constructed close to the Source of the Nile in Jinja.
The centre was supposed to be named Mahatma Gandhi International Convention and Heritage Centre. Mahatma Gandhi was an Indian nationalist and leader of the Indian independence movement.
Ms Doreen Katusiime, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, told Sunday Monitor that the Jinja City Council Authorities had failed to provide the government land for the project.
“Jinja City was supposed to provide land near the Source of the Nile because they wanted it around the Source of the Nile close to the monument of Mahatma Gandhi, but Jinja has not been able to find the land,” Ms Katusiime said.
Sunday Monitor has also learnt that shortly after Mr Modi’s state visit, Mr Durga Dass, Second Secretary, who also doubled as the Cultural Attaché at the India’s High Commission, as well as an architect from New Delhi—Mr Atal Shanker Mishra—had visited Jinja for an on-site inspection.
However, on December 18, 2018, Mr Mohan Kumarg, the general manager in charge of overseas operations at the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC), a construction firm owned by the Government of India, which was meant to implement the project, wrote to the authorities, saying the land on offer was both inadequate and unsuitable.
The authorities in Jinja had in an earlier layout submitted to the High Commission proposed that the convention centre complex comprise, among other things, the Mahatma Gandhi Cultural Centre, conference space and facilities, observatory glass bridge connecting to the land (at the source of the Nile) and a pedestrian bridge connecting the eastern (Jinja) to the western (Njeru) banks of the River Nile.
Other facilities that were meant to be part of the project were a museum, an arts and crafts market, cable car infrastructure, recreation facilities and an auditorium.
On May 15, 2019, Mr Durga Dass weighed in, saying efforts to persuade NBCC to go with what Jinja Town had offered had run into a wall.
“They (NBCC) have replied that this would not be possible in the interest of the project. In view of this, unless Jinja Municipal Council (JMC) allows parcel H to be used for the construction of the Mahatma Gandhi Convention and Heritage Centre and Museum, or identifies another suitable stretch, it will not be possible to proceed with the project,” Mr Durga Dass wrote.
A copy of a February 11 handover report that Mr Muhammad Baswari Kezaala wrote as he prepared to leave New Delhi where he had served as Uganda’s Deputy Ambassador, indicates that the architect had identified a seven-acre piece of land, part of what is meant to be the Green Belt of the City.
The said land had, however, already been leased to an investor. Mr Kezaala revealed that the land was leased to Mr Magan Patel of Nile Agro Industries for purposes of constructing a hotel. Mr Kezaala added that former Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga had engaged Mr Patel about the possibility of getting compensation for the said land, but failed to make headway.
“[Mr Patel] was asked to place his compensation offer to government for consideration to pave way for the project. He has not placed the offer,” Mr Kezaala wrote.
By press time, Mr Patel had not picked nor returned calls to his known telephone number. He had also not respond to text messages.
Mr Kezaala said he appraised President Museveni about the bottlenecks in June 2019, when the two met in Kolkata, India. Mr Museveni had made a stopover before proceeding for a four-day state visit to China.
“[President Museveni] promised to invite Mr Patel with a view of compensating him with land elsewhere so that the Mahatma Gandhi Heritage Park takes off at the site selected by the Government of India architect. Follow up with (the President) is needed,” Mr Kezaala wrote.
Mr Museveni’s senior press secretary, Mr Sandor Walusimbi, was not readily available for a comment. However, Mr Butime said the government has not abandoned the idea of developing a convention centre despite the setback.
“The idea is not lost. We shall, maybe, use our own resources to construct the convention centre…the idea has not died. We shall use other means as a ministry to see how the project can be brought back,” Mr Butime said.