Parliament on Wednesday adopted an 83-page report of findings from a two-year investigation by a sub-committee of the Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) into the operations of the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board (DAPCB).
The report discovered that more than 90 properties for which government had paid compensation are not under the management of DAPCB. Those properties are not considered the property of the government. They were repossessed under very dubious circumstances and some are being rented out to government ministries and agencies.
The committee also established that 637 properties were repossessed even when the registered proprietors never returned to Uganda as would have been required by law. One of the so-called property moguls was found to have taken charge of 725 properties for which he cannot show any supporting documents in the form of powers of attorney, certificates of repossession or letters of repossession. How could this have happened? How could this individual have repossessed those properties without fulfilling the requirements?
Some properties for which the minister of Finance had issued repossession certificates, but later withdrew them were also somehow repossessed. Simply put, the rot in the expropriated properties is too deep.
Parliament has recommended that the properties that were fraudulently repossessed be taken back by government. That is, however, not enough. These fraudsters have for many years now been earning from those properties. It is proper and logical that they are compelled to pay back what they have illegally earned over the years.
The committee also recommended that perpetuators be charged with misrepresentation and fraudulent acquisition of property where they are found to have fraudulently acquired repossession certificates, a position that we agree with, but more needs to be done.
Those fraudsters did not work alone. They colluded with lots of people in the local governments where these properties are, the district land boards, DAPCB and the ministries of Finance and that of Lands in order have their way. All those officials need to be traced and prosecuted and, where possible, be handed very heavy punishments to send out a message to others like them who might in future harbour intentions of dabbling in fraud.
It was also discovered that there were instances where government ministers facilitated the fraud by issuing some of the fraudsters with repossession letters. The culpable ministers who are still members of Cabinet must take responsibility for their actions.
It is only decisive action against such fraudsters and their accomplices that will renew the public’s confidence in government’s commitment to the fight against corruption.