Parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities, and State Enterprises – COSASE has tasked the Ministry of Finance to expedite payment of 69.5 Billion Shillings it owes to the Uganda Railways Corporation.
In 2013, the Government resolved to sell some of the URC’s properties identified as non-core assets to the provision of railway services. The assets were earmarked as the source of funds to sustain the operations of the entity and settlement of its long-term liabilities.
The assets that included 57 acres of the Corporation’s land were sold at 69.5 Billion Shillings by the Uganda Land Commission – ULC to private developers. However, for more than a decade, the money has never been paid to URC’s account despite recurrent promises from the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development.
On Thursday, the Committee summoned the Finance Minister, Matia Kasaijja to explain why the URC has never been paid.
The MPs also tasked the Ministry to explain some discrepancies detected in the land sale including why there was no formal letter by the Finance Minister authorizing the deal.
While Cabinet directed the sale of 32.5 acres, the MPs discovered that up to 72.78 acres were sold.
Ssenyonyi explained that the committee visited URC headquarters in Nalukulongo and discovered that the entity is undergoing management and financial difficulties yet the money that would recapitalize them was never remitted.
But Kasaija did not appear before the committee but sent Evelyn Anite, the State Minister for Finance in charge of Investment and Privatization to represent him. The MPs tasked Anite to explain why the URC was never paid and make the commitment to do as soon as possible.
Anite revealed that since taking over office in 2016, she has never seen the letter by the Minister of Works and Transport consenting to the sale of URC land and imploring the MPs to summon the former Finance Minister Syda Bbumba.
Moses Mwase, the Director in charge of the Privatization Unit under the Finance Ministry could not confirm nor deny the existence of the letter authorizing the transaction and requested more time to find out.
Anite committed before the Committee that she will write a letter on Friday to commit the Government to pay the URC money, which will be included in the Financial Year 2022/2023 pending appropriation by Parliament.
But the Minister couldn’t explain why more than 40 acres of the land was sold to other private developers including 14 acres of land that businessman Hassan Bassajjabalaba acquired to expand Kampala University but he instead sold to another investor.
Ssenyonyi disclosed that their findings indicate that while the 14 acre-land was sold to Basajjabaliba in the public interest, he decided to illegally sell it to another investor at a cost of 15 billion and the land in question is where hosting Arena Shopping Mall in Nsambya, an affluent city suburb is not in the public interest.
The committee also cross-examined other beneficiaries on how they acquired the URC land. They included Mbarara North Constituency MP Robert Mwesigwa Rukaari who acquired three acres and Janet Kobusingye, the proprietor of Mestil Hotel and Residences (3.6 acres).
While appearing before the Committee, the two developers have failed to produce authentic documents to prove how they respectively purchased the land in question.
Rukaari has since been referred to the IGG while Kobusingye who appeared on Wednesday said her documents were burnt in a fire peril.