Geogre William Bizibu appearing before the parliament committee before. Photo credit, Daily Monitor.

Underfire Executive Secretary of the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board (DAPCB), Mr George William Bizibu called a press conference and blamed several owners of buildings acquired under the Custodian Board after they were placed under investigation by the Criminal Intelligence Directorate (CID) and the State House Anti-Corruption Unit.

The joint investigation was sanctioned by President Yoweri Museveni after city investor Margaret Ssekidde of Seroma Ltd reported a property matter involving over shillings 1.6 billion to the head of state.

Mr. Charles Twine, the spokesperson of the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) without giving the progress of the investigation, said that top Custodian Board bosses including executive secretary Mr Bizibu were being investigated on orders of the President.

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In a March 23, 2018 letter to Bizibu, written by the Permanent Secretary in the Finance Ministry, Mr Keith Muhakanizi warns against allocation of properties belonging to departed Asians.

Mr Muhakanizi warns that it is only court that can direct the cancellation of a certificate of title of such property and not the board or its members, some of whom are ministers.

“…where repossession certificate for properties under the DAPCB had been issued, only the relevant courts of law had the authority to cancel such certificates in accordance with the law. It was agreed that the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and the board must continue to respect the rule of law. Therefore any orders of court must be complied with,” the letter reads in part.

“By copy of this letter, I am duly informing Hon Ministers who are members of the Departed Asians Property custodian Board (DAPCB) and the Clerk to Parliament who has requested information to assist Members of Parliament carry out their legislative and oversight functions in this matter,” the letter adds.

However, according to the Auditor General, John Muwanga, he says top government officials and renowned businessmen had a hand in the dubious acquisition of some of the properties the Asians left behind in 1972 when they were expelled by Idi Amin.

“The decisions of management in some instances were not based on established procedures. As a consequence, properties may have been wrongfully allocated, repossessed and compensated for,” the report for 2011 reads in part.

“Due to political influence, purchase prices could be reduced below the reserve prices without proper justification. There were also instances of defaulting in payments with no appropriate action taken,” it adds.

A total of Sh239m for 87 properties remains uncollected, the audit established. The the report states that receipt books and bank statements for the period 2000 to 2007 could not be found, and that 28 files of properties sold have gone missing.

In addition, there were no bid registers and bid evaluation reports for 77 properties sold, and there were no valuation reports for 39 others.

“I understand that the Government is in the process of winding up the activities of the Custodian Board,” Muwanga concludes. This, he adds, should only be done after the board has accounted for all the money it was entrusted with.

The Auditor General also discovered serious flaws and irregularities in the management of the funds. In his 30-page report, John Muwanga found that sh1.9b was withdrawn under unclear circumstances from the divestiture account at the Bank of Uganda on February 19, 2001.

“I was not provided adequate supporting documentation for the transaction and neither was authority from the board provided. I was not able to ascertain how the funds were utilized,” Muwanga says, calling the transaction irregular and possibly fraudulent.

Moreover, the Auditor General found that none of the mechanisms required under the 1973 Assets of Departed Asians Act to manage the properties and proceeds had been established.

The finance minister was supposed to keep a register of all properties or businesses declared by departing Asians.

“However, it was observed that no assets register was maintained. As a consequence, I was unable to verify the properties repossessed (4,063), properties sold (1,676) and properties unsold (3,226) as reported by management,” Muwanga states.

According to the Act, a common pool fund was supposed to be established through which all the money on the accounts of expelled Asians should be managed.

“However, there was no evidence that such a fund was established,” the report says. It quotes the accounting officer as saying that all bank accounts were frozen and transferred to the defunct Uganda Commercial Bank from where they suffered a currency reform which left the accounts at no value at all. But the Auditor General adds that he was unable to confirm these assertions.

In addition, the board, which was supposed to meet every month, did not meet once between 1997 and 2008, implying that there was no supervision.

Staffing was another problem. There was no accountant or cashier responsible for the preparation and maintenance of the books of accounts and the records, the report reveals.

“The absence of an accountant or cashier resulted into the legal manager handling finances. She could collect and bank revenue, write payment vouchers and authorise payments. In addition, an office messenger was entrusted with banking large sums of money both in cash and cheques,” the report states.

The Departed Asians Properties Custodian Board was formed after the fall of Idi Amin to manage the properties that had been taken away from Asians who had left the country when he expelled them. Its mandate was to enable those Asians who returned to the country to take back possession of their properties and manage those that were not repossessed by the original owners.

The board originally was supposed to wind up and properties of Asians that had not been reclaimed sold off, in the mid-90s but this is yet to happen and any new proposed date of winding up has led to massive corruption and a scramble for the properties, many of them in prime locations by public officials.

There have been several incidences of the board cancelling certificates of ownership it has handed to Asian families, a matter which can now only be decided by courts of law.