Barring any other eventualities, the raging saga between Crane Bank, the Bank of Uganda and businessman Sudhir Ruperalia will make the top story for this year.
For obvious reasons, anything to do with Mr. Ruparelia will always attract the attention of the public, given that he appeared on the Forbes List in 2015 as the richest man in East Africa, with a value of US$1.2 billion then, mostly invested in the financial, hospitality and real estate sectors. Certainly, a man of such financial muscle has a very big stake in the economy, including but not limited to providing jobs and services to a wide range of locals and foreigners.
But that notwithstanding, it is imperative to note that at about that time, the economic climate in the EA region took a turn for the low as a result of plummeting markets, most especially in South Sudan where many Ugandan businessmen, including those who were dealing with Crane Bank lost huge monies estimated in excess of US$60 million. Indeed, the government of Uganda and that of South Sudan are aware of the said losses, which, if looked at in context, distorted the Ugandan economy and inevitably, the banking sector in which the Crane Bank was one of the leading players and lenders.
Be that as it may, issues of finance (lending and borrowing) can only be carried successfully when there is close supervision. And, under the law, the BoU can, if it deems it necessary, carry out impromptu bank audits every six months and the Crane Bank was no exception to any such undertaking.
Needless to say therefore, if the BoU had properly carried out its supervisory mandate, the Crane Bank saga would never have become public fodder and a subject of litigation. However, with the court case lodged by the Central Bank that now lies in the past. But since the oft recommended method of solving disputes is through mediation, the suit parties should chart a way forward that will leave little egg on their faces.
Indeed, the first die towards a harmonious resolution of the standoff was cast by Mr. Ruparelia, when he offered his three multi-billion properties as a guarantee/security, in lieu of settlement of his obligations in a period of six months.
This gesture should then be reciprocated and for a start the BoU should, for any avoidance of doubt, account for any monies so far raised from the sale of collateral belonging to the Crane Bank debtors, and then ask Mr. Ruparelia to pay the balance, if any. This is important because Mr. Ruparelia says that the collateral is about Shs.600 billion, yet the money, that is allegedly owed to the Crane Bank by debtors is less than that, estimated at about Shs340 billion.
Further, for purposes of better accountability, it is also equally important for the Crane Bank debtors and general public to know the entire procedure of how the disposal is being conducted and the end beneficiaries (buyers of the collateral), as this will help scuttle any suspicions of ill-will on the part of the BoU, against Mr. Ruparelia.
And, ultimately a win-win situation between the billionaire businessman and the BoU would be a good starting point for both parties to re-evaluate and improve upon their methods of work.