Scandal: Museveni Exposes Electoral Commission Deal Of Purchasing 75Bn Land In Butabika Wetland

Following the relocation of the headquarters of Electoral Commission (EC) to pave way for the road works on Kampala Flyover Construction and Road Upgrading Project (KFCRUP), President Museveni has weighed in so that taxpayers’ money is put to proper use.

This comes after some EC’s bosses picked interest in purchasing property worth billions of shillings that is located in a wetland.

Artistic building for EC

Though UNRA’s set deadline to have EC relocated is left with only two months, the progress of the procurement process is still hindered by the cohesion between the concerned parties which include EC, PPDA, NEMA, IGG and UNRA.

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

In the letter dated March 7, 2022 and addressed to Prof. Godfrey Lule, a consultant Physician based in Nairobi, President Museveni guides on the relocation of Electoral Commission offices.

“I have received your letter of January 25, 2022 regarding the efforts by the Electoral Commission to get new Headquarters. You compared your property on four acres to another property on one acre, I have checked with Justice Byabakama. The property they are looking at is on 18 acres for Shs111bn. They abandoned the one on an acre. I however hear that the land on 18 acres is in a wetland. If that is the case, then your property gains the upper hand. By copy of this letter, I direct all the concerned to logically resolve this issue because where the Electoral Commission offices are today need to be vacated in order to complete the construction of the overhead road,” the President’s letter reads in part.

President Museveni’s letter to EC

GENESIS

About three years ago, the Electoral Commission initiated the procurement of office premises at the estimated cost of Shs60bn. The commission had on four attempts invited bids under the open domestic bidding method however all four processes were unsuccessful. The commission then sought guidance from the Attorney General to use the direct procurement method since the need to vacate its present premises on plot 55 Jinja Road by June 30, 2021 to pave the way for road works is underway. The learned Attorney General in response guided that the Commission should comply with the requirements set out under regulation 17 of the PPDA (Rules and methods for procurement of services, works and non-consultancy services) Regulations 2014.

The requirement for the office premises was one acre of land as minimum, with a minimum office space of 7,555 square metres including washrooms and with sufficient air circulation at a budget estimate of Shs60bn.

However the offer made by Property Services Ltd (sole bidder) worth Shs111.3bn is about 86% above the budget and thus puts the entity at risk in the event that the property is acquired. Whereas the property offered by Property Services Limited was located on 18.6 acres, the commission required a minimum of one acre without a maximum requirement stated. The property also had additional facilities like two swimming pools and tennis court, basketball court, football pitch and two hostel blocks which were not required by the commission, but contribute to the price of the property and the commission would have to incur maintenance costs for excess facilities they had initially not envisioned thus increasing the whole lifecycle cost of acquiring the property both of which would amount to nugatory expenditure in the event that the property is acquired by the commission.

Apparently, Property Services Limited keeps lowering the price but still the proprietor is above the EC’s set price. He started at Shs111.3bn to Shs97bn and the latest information coming in indicates that they are willing to settle for Shs75bn.

Whereas meetings are convened incessantly to bargain with the proprietor to lower the price and sell the property in question, there are serious challenges that must be addressed.UNRA ED’s Letter to EC

LANDS MINISTER PETITIONED

On April 4, 2022, the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development was petitioned to have the land title at Butabika next to plots 100, 101, 106 – 110 and 112- 144 on a maximum area of 30 acres cancelled. This was based on the NEMA report to carry out a regulated activity in a wetland /river/ lakeshore permit number NEMA/RB/LS/WT/677 to Nationwide Properties Limited. The act was to carry out activities related to construction of wastewater treatment facilities, eco-tourism and other leisure activities on a maximum area of 30 acres. The validity of the permit which was issued on August 6, 2019 was three years to end on August 6, 2022. In the same breath, the Commissioner for Land Registration was petitioned on April 12, 2022 to cancel the land title at Butabika – Nakawa – Kampala next to Plots 100 – 101, 106 -110 and 112 – 114 on a maximum area of 30 acres. This is because the said land was acquired with a sole reason – construction of water treatment facilities contrary to the GEM Cambridge Schools owned by an Indian Investor. The land in question was even advertised in the New Vision of April 4, 2020 on page 19.

PPDA ED WEIGHS IN

In letters dated January 23, 2022 and another Referenced PPDA/EC/102 and dated February 4, 2022, the Executive Director of PPDA, Benson Tumuramye cautioned the Secretary Electoral Commission following the complaints raised in regard to the procurement of office premises suitable for relocation of electoral commission head offices in Kampala.

This was based on allegations that the procurement process was marred with irregularities and key players were disregarding the best practices and principles of the procurement intended to favour particular bidders.

The first complaint from M/s Tayebwa, Sserwadda & Co. Advocates dated October 19, 2021 alleges that the Electoral Commission wanted to procure land/premises at an exorbitant sum worth Shs62bn of taxpayers money for one acre of land.

The second complaint from a whistleblower dated January 25, 2022 alleges that the sole property provider had been sourced directly from the above procurement cost of Shs97bn without considering other competitive methods to enable other providers to participate in the same. In the third whistleblower’s complaint dated January 26, 2022, it is alleged that the Electoral Commission was irregularly directed by the Attorney General to conduct selective bidding. That EC only invited one bidder Property Services Ltd to submit a bid in a closed process that is known to the secretary of the commission. The allegation goes on that the Electoral Commission is fraudulently attempting to procure a building above its budget of Shs60bn by Shs37bn which is planned to be split into two financial years as a way to cover up its fraud in two different budgets. The Procurement and Disposal Unit and the Accounting Officer regularly carried out casual visits of buildings offered and purportedly conducted in valuation based on no set requirements as per the procurement guidelines. The bidder Electoral Commission invited to participate is partially sitting on the wetland and the land was reportedly given by the investor for free for the purpose of building organized leisure centres and converting it into an office contravenes the intended purpose it was meant for.

Following the investigation in accordance with Section 8 (1) e of PPDA Act, 2003 as amended, it was discovered that; Uganda Land Commission entered into a lease with PSL Housing Limited on December 1, 2004 for land measuring 10.117 hectares on plot 112 – 114 Butabika Road for a period of 99 years. Property Services Ltd submitted three certificates of title registered in the names of Pradip Nandlal Karia, Minex Nandlal Karia, Kunnal Pradip Karia, Alnasir Gulam Hussein Virani, Nadim Hussein Viran each holding 20% shares in the title. The Authority found discrepancy in the transfer of land to the proprietors. While the lease agreement signed on December 1, 2004 was between Uganda Land Commission and PSL Housing Limited, all the three certificates of Title submitted in the bid of Property Services Ltd indicated that land was sold to by Nationwide Properties Ltd to the five proprietors. There was no link between PSL Housing Limited to whom the land was leased to by Uganda Lands Commission and Nationwide Properties Ltd.

Following the Powers of Attorney, the statement of requirement in the bidding document under item 12; Proprietorship required that “the land must be registered in the names of the bidder, otherwise proof of authentic (certified) powers of Attorney or letters of administration should be attached. Two certified Powers of attorney were submitted and the second Powers of Attorney Property Services Limited nominated and ordained Minex Nandlal Karia to be the true and lawful attorney to represent them at bid submission which implies that Property Services Limited had no powers to conclude on the a contract in the event of an award decision. There was lack of clarity as to who would eventually enter into the contract with the Electoral Commission which raises a risk of the process aborting or taking much longer at the time of contract signing further delaying the realization of the intended objectives. It should be clarified on who owns the powers to effect the land transfers.

Following the above and considering the urgency required in getting a new home the PPDA Executive Director recommended that the Accounting Officer must ensure that the contract price is within the market price range in accordance with Section 26 (5) of the PPDA Act 2003 as amended and he should also confirm the availability of funds putting into consideration the whole lifecycle cost of cost of acquiring the property since it was offered in excess of the Commissions requirements.

The entity should obtain valuation of the property from the Chief Government Valuer and negotiate downwards in accordance with Section 74 (1) of the PPDA Act 2003 as amended in the spirit of the value for money findings in this report. The entity conducts due diligence on the ownership of the property and whether the property is in the area that is restricted by NEMA and if it is, the premises should have clearance from NEMA prior to contact award in accordance to regulation 31 of the (Procuring and Disposing Entities) Regulations, 2014.

IGG MOTIVE QUESTIONED

On April 20, 2022 the IGG Betty Kamya wrote to the Executive Director of NEMA clarifying on wetland resource user permit number NEMA/RB/LS/WT/677 and land comprised in LRV 4479 Folio 20, Plot 102A Butabika Road, LRV 3997 Folio 19 Plots 9 – 13 Dukes Drive Road and LRV 3997 Folio 21 Plots 1A – 7A Dukes Road. This was in reference earlier made in a letter Referenced NEMA/4.2.5 dated March 11, 2022 in which NEMA advised that determining whether the subject land was actually in a wetland requires opening of boundaries by the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.

In the boundary opening report for Plot 102A Butabika Road Plots 1A – 7A and 9 Dukes Road, Luzira, Kampala, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development concluded that “the total fenced land out of Plots 102A, 1A -7A and 9 cumulatively totals to 7.04 Ha (= 17.403 acres) and falls 150 metres away from the nearest visible wetland” The IGG requests NEMA to ascertain whether the said land is 150 metres away from the wetland so that it can be available for use by Electoral Commission.

However what is interesting is that the IGG has gone ahead to seek clarification yet on her table is a visible full NEMA report indicating that the land in question is located in the wetland. The people independent of this investigation continue to question the IGG’s motive in the twist of events.

The Inspector General of Government (IGG) had earlier on January 25, 2022 been petitioned over the circumstances under which the Electoral Commission (EC) is trying to purchase its new home in Butabika, a Kampala suburb. The whistleblower’s petition alleged that the Polls Body was in the process of procuring its new offices at a cost of approximately Shs97bn without following the right PPDA procurement procedures. Although the law gives PPDA authority to ensure the application is competitive, transparent, non-discriminatory, and it must be meeting value for money in line with procurement and disposal standards and practices, EC had reportedly done otherwise. This was based on allegations that the procurement process of EC’s new home was in its final stages of completion since several meetings to seal the deal were held in Dubai and Nairobi. The IGG remained cagey on the matter until this month.

BACKGROUND

Information available indicates that the property on sale (Plot 102/104 Butabika Road), next to Royal Palm Estate, Kirombe-Butabika Rd, Kampala belongs to Property Service Company. The property in question is the former GEMS Cambridge International School that was based in Butabika. It closed down due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and its implications like lockdown. The school which started in 2013 did not see any future during and after the lockdown. Following this predicament, the management put the parents on notice that they won’t cross until 2022 since the ability to sustain operations was severely impacted on. The buildings and other forms of infrastructure were put on market. It is against this background that the management is trying to sell the property and land to the Electoral Commission. Efforts to talk to EC current management were futile as non of the directors could pick up our calls.

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