- Probe. The Minister of Lands, Ms Betty Amongi, yesterday testified for the second day running at the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters and was grilled on alleged attempt to steal Asians’ property in Kololo and abuse of the Land Fund money. Justice Catherine Bamugemereire chairs the commission, assisted by six other members sitting at the National Records and Archives Centre in Wandegeya. Daily Monitor’s Ephraim Kasozi and Jalira Namyalo covered the proceedings and captured the highlights.
Ebert Byenkya (Commission’s lead counsel): Today, we are continuing with the examination on a number of matters of Hon. Betty Amongi which began yesterday [Tuesday].
Justice Bamugemereire: We will continue from where we ended yesterday. I asked a question and I never got an answer. Hon. Minister, when do you get to do government business in view of the fact that you are a good businesswoman and you have all these multiple businesses?
Amongi: My lord, I have an employee who manages the business while I do government work.
Bamugemereire: (hands a document to Amongi). Can you recognise the person in the picture? What is the name of the person?
Amongi: It is Henry Mubiru.
Bamugemereire: Is that his face?
Amongi: No. The Henry Mubiru I employ is not this one. This one I see a file…..
Bamugemereire: No, no, no, is that his (Mubiru) face?
Amongi: Not the one working with us. I can bring you the Henry Mubiru working with us, my lord.
Bamugemereire: Can you bring the one who works with you?
Amongi: Yes, I will.
Bamugemereire: Look at the file. Can you read what the file is?
Amongi: ULC/90/06/29127/2011 purchase of land by government (ULC).
Bamugemereire: What is ULC?
Amongi: Uganda Land Commission
Bamugemereire: Does it happen to be under your docket?
Bamugemereire: Go ahead, what does it say?
Amongi: (reads) Block 128 Plot 19, Buruli, Nakasongola…
Bamugemereire: Just return that document and I show you another that relates to that Henry Mubiru. You are yet to show us your Henry Mubiru, but there is this Henry Mubiru that has worked very closely with ULC. He purports to be an owner of a building in Nakasongola, Sebawaali and he gets compensation but there is something much more interesting about him than just the fact that he applies and gets compensation. Can you read this power of Attorney?
Amongi: (reads) Know all men by this present Mubiru Henry of P.O. Box 4177 Kampala. Do hereby nominate, authorise or otherwise appoint Walugembe Daniel of P.O. Box 28092 Kampala as my true and lawful attorney to act for me and on my behalf in respect of the above described land as fully and effectually as I could act in person for the following purposes and others…
Bamugemereire: I know that you were not in office at that time. Period is not important but you ought to have heard of the name Daniel Walugembe.
Amongi: Yes, I have
Bamugemereire: This kind of deal would not be typical of Walugembe because he has a way of doing these things and getting Uganda Land Fund to pay colossal sums of money. May be you know him differently, how do you know Walugembe?
Amongi: I knew Walugembe when he came to me in office with a letter from State House which was giving instruction for his money to be paid and when he came to me as a minister with a letter in respect to payment. Another company Amproc also came because he had implicated Amproc, they had a business misunderstanding under the Land Fund so I met both of them. When I realised that their case was…
Bamugemereire: That is a different story. Do you know Walugembe? He has a lot of transactions in the Uganda Land Fund. This Henry Mubiru was equally a resident of Uganda Land Fund and he was paid through Pastor Walugembe. While you were dealing with Pastor Walugembe, you ought to have known or understood that there was a lot of proliferations around Walugembe that not only led to illicit payments of moneys but also to a lot of dealings in the Land Commission.
For Henry Mubiru to be connected to Walugembe and then connected to your company and the way you described him (Mubiru) as a person who is very knowledgeable about how to make deals and a good worker, that shows this is a kind of person who will do anything to get his boss money and you sound very much like Henry Mubiru. He would get paid through Walugembe from Uganda Land Fund. On this occasion, they got Shs1.2 billion using those files
Amongi: May I know the financial year?
Bamugemereire: It does not matter. What I am trying to tell you is that there is a nexus between Walugembe and Henry Mubiru. Now you become the Lands minister, you are dealing with Henry Mubiru. You know Walugembe very well and I don’t know who introduced the other to you. But both of them are very good land dealers. Did you know the character of the people you were dealing with?
Amongi: My lord, I produce Henry Mubiru who is my worker
Bamugemerire: Are you proud of him?
Amongi: I am talking about Mubiru who is my worker
Bamugemereire: Even with the things he did at the Custodian Board? Are you proud of some broker you got from the street and go and attempt to steal government land?
Amongi: My lord, …
Bamugemereire: I am a lawyer and I know that you cannot steal land because it is an immovable chattel but in the normal mind of human being, it is actually theft. Mubiru, who is trying to steal, is your good worker and he says in your position, managing director. Is that alright Hon minister?
Amongi: I have given my opinion on that…
Bamugemereire: Is that alright? That somebody should attempt to steal four properties in the city in your name and it does not bother you? I need an answer.
Amongi: My lord, I extensively answered that.
Bamugemereire: I want you to answer my questions. Henry Mubiru, a street guy, and you said you are the man who can cut deals, go to the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board, apply for these buildings. When you look back today May 9, is that alright? A minister of lands, a member of the Custodian Board using Mubiru to take peoples’ property, is that alright?
Amongi: My lord, we have not taken any person’s property
Bamugemereire: Is that alright?
Amongi: My lord, I request not to make a comment on that matter.
Bamugemereire: You want to make a statement about it instead? Which one do you choose to do? Because this is a commission and I am asking you questions. Is it alright for a person to attempt to steal? At some point he stole because there was change of names and the person had to buy it back. That is a matter of conscience, you don’t need to read a book.
Amongi: My lord, can I consult my counsel?
Bamugemereire: Do you want to consult your counsel to tell you whether it was alright or not? You may consult him as long as he does not write for you answers. You can close that book counsel, and let the witness consult you.
Amongi: My lord, my counsel is in agreement with the fact that I answered in respect to [issue] Number One. I can produce Mubiru working with Amobet Investments Limited.
Bamugemereire: That answer is not what I asked. My question is, it does not matter which Mubiru you will produce, is it alright, lawful for a person to hold out for a minister and obtain buildings and attempt to evict people. Is it justifiable?
Amongi: My lord, like yesterday I indicated that Custodian Board had indicated that those properties were available and I will beg that the commission interacts more because you will find not only these properties have issues, there many more. May be even more than 500 properties where Custodian Board…
Bamugemereire: The difference between 500 and 1,500 or 3,000 properties having problems and yours is that in your case, people are saying the minister is stealing our buildings. That is the difference.
Amongi: I am not.
Bamugemereire: So it is alright what Mubiru did? Is that what you are saying?
Amongi: What I am saying is that the opinion that the minister is stealing is the opinion of those who have made the assertion but I explained myself thoroughly yesterday.
Bamugemereire: No, no, Hon minister, I am saying that yesterday was yesterday and today is May 9, actually one year since this commission started its hearings. And we require fresh hearings. I just want to ask again and the reason why I am asking is because of the law. Is this what the law envisaged? Let us go back to the law, Section 12 of the Leadership Code Act and you read it loud.
Amongi: My lord, let me consult my counsel.
Bamugemereire: To read? Seriously, to read the Leadership Act? Honestly if you are to consult on that one, I am also going to advise that instead of reading it, you can actually make a statement about it.
Amongi: (reads the section of the law): The leader, the leader’s spouse, agent, private company or public company or business enterprise in which the leader, leader’s spouse or agent has controlling interest shall not seek, accept or hold any contract with any government or public body which the leader controls or directly participate in decision making office affairs, any foreign business organisation where the contract is likely to be in conflict with the public interest. A leader who contravenes this code is liable to vacate office or be dismissed from office.…
Bamugemereire: Return my document. There is a basis in law as to why those questions are valid. Do you have controlling authority in Amobet Investments limited?
Amongi: Yes, 60 per cent.
Bamugemereire: Is the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board a government or public body?
Amongi: You are asking me? (laughter in the hall)
Bamugemereire: Hon minister, I am going to give you one last opportunity and you play around again, this game is going to change. Is the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board a government or public body or not?
Amongi: It is an institution under the Ministry of Finance.
Bamugemereire: Is it a government body of some sort?
Amongi: Yes. It is a government body established by the Act.
Bamugemereire: Do you directly participate in some of its decision making as a board member?
Amongi: Some, yes.
Bamugemereire: In fact you are very involved in its affairs because as a board member, you have that over-wrecking power over the Custodian Board. You are the board, is that not right.
Amongi: My lord, is it okay to obtain the functions of the board?
Bamugemereire: It is under the law and you know it. Actually, the functions are much more than what you attempt to make them. You give them a narrow focus but they are very wide
Amongi: I request to consult the Ipad…
Bamugemereire: Let your lawyer check as you continue answering my questions. Pass the Ipad to your lawyer. Do you or do you not think that Amobet was a special purpose vehicle that was used by yourselves to acquire and amass buildings in another name that would otherwise not be directly associated with you? And that using this special purpose vehicle, you have been able to acquire at least five buildings.
It does not matter if now you are trying to wash your hands off them but Amobet has successfully applied for and acquired allocations under the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board. Is that right or not? I know you say you started the company long time ago, but when you became a minister, your company changed its form. So you get a person to start transacting on your behalf to get buildings allocated to you by virtue of the fact you have more power. If someone says it is a special purpose vehicle used by yourself to step aside and introduce a new person, would that person be far from the truth?
Amongi: Yes, my lord because I can obtain for you other businesses when I became a minister that Amobet has engaged in and paid taxes. I can avail them to you, an issue to confirm this is a smaller portion of what Amobet is doing.
Bamugemereire: Can I have the TIN number of your company?
Amongi: I can avail it but I don’t have it here.
Bamugemereire: You have said this commission should bring issues of this nature like the running of the Custodian Board to attention of the minister and my question is, Hon Minister, do you see that there is a problem of how efficiently we shall run the ministry if the minister is involved in dealings in land in that actual sector? That you are personally involved in controversial land deals, do you see a problem there?
Amongi: As a member of the Custodian Board, I am just one of the few and it is under the Ministry of Finance. I beg that you judge me on the issue of management of my sector in respect to what I have done in my sector.
Bamugemereire: Precisely, do you think the sector is safe with having a minister who wants to remove, delete, amend the register of a title of somebody who has had the title from 1968 and is in possession of the land now. Is the sector safe? Even for just one case, because one case is just too many.
Amongi: My lord, the issue of temporary allocation is not acquisition…
Bamugemereire: It is not temporary allocation, I am talking about the moment the minister starts to acquire a title of a person who has been in possession of a house from 1968, and says that title is forged. The implication is that the minister who is questioning the title and who is interested in that property wants to amend the register. Are we safe with that kind of minister?
Amongi: My lord, I can trace the document that was brought by the whistleblower from immigration…
Bamugemereire: It has nothing to do with the whistleblower, it has nothing to do with the temporary allocation, it has everything to do with Amobet, with the person with controlling interest and her other capacity as a minister of Lands.
Amongi: My lord, the issue which I was dealing with is in respect to five or seven properties that was in the complaint, include plot 29.
Bamugemereire: Why don’t you want to deal with the actual Plot 29, Acacia Avenue? The fact that you can deal with a title that is clearly set out and has historical trail, are we safe? In fact if you had succeeded, it would have been a situation where we see the wrong people get a title and the right people get thrown out?
Amongi: My lord, under the Expropriated Asian Property Act, the minister of Finance must sell the property of Departed Asians first before the register is amended.
Bamugemereire: What did you find in Plot 29 Acacia Avenue?
Amongi: Plot 29, I did not check
Bamugemereire: You bought without checking?
Amongi: No, it was not bought.
Bamugemereire: Okay, let us use a different word, you temporarily acquired, but you did not check?
Amongi: My lord, Mr Mubiru who is the managing director made the application…. My lord, my opinion is that…
Bamugemereire: We are not looking for your opinion because you are not an expert…you are actually a party too. We need your word and it is what goes on record and not your opinion.
Amongi: Mr Mubiru made the application and notified me when the conflict started. He notified me that the Custodian Board had assured him and it was not only him, there were very many others who were allocated other properties on the assurance that the property reverted back to government and it was available for allocation.
Bamugemereire: Do you now see why I asked you a question that, was it alright?
Amongi: Looking back, I would want reform in …
Bamugemereire: Looking back, how should a minister do business? How should a minister work in such a way that we can see a bright line between the Minister of Lands and the controlling interest holder of Amobet. How should that happen?
Amongi: A lesson I have picked from this matter is that I should make authorisations for any other business that can be done with government and we are going to do that... I am going to consult my legal and Attorney General to advise me on how I can do business of Amobet.
Bamugemereire: Don’t you think it would have been important for you to ask that question at the beginning of your term as a minister? The most disappointing part of your answer is that you have still learnt nothing. How much were you paying Mr Mubiru?
Amongi: Mr Mubiru is paid a monthly salary of Shs2.1 million
Judge: How many staff work under Mr Mubiru?
Amongi: We have about seven.
Bamugemereire: Do you know about the law regarding more than five people? What you need to do when employing more than five people? Are you registered with NSSF?
Amongi: My lord, counsel has indicated to me that when you employ more than five people, you have to register them on NSSF workers’ benefit. However, the workers that we have, who work under Mubiru on permanent basis are three plus Mubiru, they are four and the others are on short term contracts and not-permanent.
Bamugemereire: Do you have a contract with Mr Mubiru?
Amongi: We have an appointment letter.
Bamugemereire: What the Commission want is that can we have the internal working documents of your businesses.
Interest: Hundreds of properties worth millions of dollars that belonged to Asians forced out of the country by Idi Amin are the subject of intense interest as government looks to wind up the body that manages them.
Positioning. It is said in anticipation of the properties being sold off, highly placed individuals have positioned themselves to acquire them at relatively low prices, and the fight for the most prime ones is already leading to court cases. One of the properties over which there is already a court case is Plot 10 Nakasero Road, which houses Faze 2 Restaurant.
Fears. Its registered proprietor, Mr Kuldip Singh Dhami, values it at close to Shs1b and fears that there is a calculated move by officials in the Departed Asians Properties Custodian Board and the ministry of Lands to grab it from him.
Establishment. The Departed Asians Properties Custodian Board was formed after the fall of Amin to manage the properties that had been taken away from Asians who had left the country.