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BUSINESS: Asian investors, property owners accuse MPs of harassment.

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KAMPALA – A number of prominent Ugandan-Asian businessmen invlolved in property repossesions more than twenty years ago, under their umbrella body, the Association of Expropriated Properties Owners Limited have taken strong exception to the conduct of the select task-force of the Parliamentary Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) that is currently inquiring into the affairs of the properties, saying the MPs have ignored court orders.

The task-force has since July last year, been probing the acquisition or repossession of properties by individuals after their former owners who were expelled in 1972 have either not returned to repossess them or were compensated by the government in 1976.

City businessman Muhammed Allibhai, the chairman of the association says the MPs are disregarding the current situation of lockdowns worldwide due to the Coronavirus pandemic and have resorted to issuing defamatory statements against their persons, and also resorted to blatant contempt of existing court orders.

In an interview, through his lawyers of Ambrose Tebyasa & Company Advocates, Mr Allibhai, who has been one of the several property managers or owners subjected to reported warrant of arrest for failure to appear before the MPs, also says Parliament has wrongly depicted him as a criminal in the the public domain, and as owning 700 properties which is false.

“Properties were repossessed for and on behalf of clients. They were not repossessed as owners by the agent,” Mr Allibhai says.

Accordingly, the certificates of repossession was issued in the names of the owner and not in the names of the holder of the Powers of Attorney.
On claims that he owns 700 properties, Mr Allibhai says: “Majority of the clients took the properties and gave them to other agents or friends and colleagues to manage. Most of them have been sold either directly or through the agent of the owners’ choice,” he says.

According to the association,  80 to 90% of the properties were sold to locals working in the area, especially up country.

“In a lot of cases, the owners signed the transfer document or gave special powers to the agent to sell,” Mr. Allibhai says.

The association says that  sell funds were sent directly to the owners account or their beneficiaries.

“In some cases the owners actually came to Uganda to visit the property after repossession and sold it at that time.The ministers in-charge at that time and the President made various visits to UK, America and Canada requesting and inducing the repossessors to come back to repossess and if they felt comfortable to invest in Uganda,” says Mr. Allibhai.

Mr Allibhai together with other members of the Association of Expropriated Properties Owners Limited last appeared before the task force in September last year. They all testified on oath and the businessman said he only  managed about 400 properties twenty years ago, on behalf of expropriated Asians under his company Alderbridge Management and Real Estates Ltd. He told MPs that after returning to Uganda in 1991, he was three years later given powers of attorney by owners to help in the repossession process because they were scattered in Canada and the United Kingdom. There wasn’t any foul play in the process, the MPs heard.

On charges some of the members of the Association of Expropriated Properties Owners Limited were on the run and have failed to appear before the committee, the allegation has been dismissed as defamatory.
For example, businessman Mr NK Radia says he learnt of such a position through the media.

Mr Radia, like Mr. Allibhai, who is  currently out of the country, was too never summoned and was therefore unable to attend any meetings as the MPs interviewed officials from the Departed Asians Properties Custodian Board.

Committee chairman Ibrahim Kasozi then purportedly issued a warrant of arrest for the businessman but Mr Radia however says that he cannot be in contempt of Parliament when it never served him because for there to be contempt of Parliament or court, there must be first knowledge/awareness of this by the person who is summoned to appear.

Mr Radia says that being a person of advanced health, he cannot easily appear before MPs amidst the Covid-19 spread. Mr Allibhai too, and others have never received the summons.

“Much as our client has never received summons and the said warrant of arrest, he is not able to appear until the Covid-19 situation normalises.  As you are aware, Uganda’s borders are closed and so are many borders of several countries due to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. Our client is in the age bracket of the most vulnerable to the pandemic and can only make cautious movements taking into his health” the letter reads in part.
If Parliament still requires our client to appear before the Committee, he can only do so when the situation has improved and returned to normal as he is currently not in the country and you are aware of the international lockdown for most borders”.

The COSASE taskforce too has been faulted for failure to respond to the two letters written by the association raising issues to why he could not appear even before the lockdown.

The first letter was written on March 10 questioning the legitimacy of the investigations because the matters were in court while the second one dated March 18 raising similar concerns after reading in the press that a warrant of arrest had been issued.

“The above said communications were a clarion call to the committee to discontinue the investigations as they openly contravene the law and the Constitution but our client has never received any response or position taken by Parliament on his communications,” the lawyers say.

“As you are fully aware, our clients filed Constitutional Petition N0. 22 of 2019, challenging the constitutionality of the Parliament’s acts of purporting to decide matters of cancelling certificates of repossession, re-allocations. Injuncting transactions and the proceedings being conducted before Parliament despite the Petition having been duly served is acting parallel to the Constitutional Court, in blatant breach of the sub judice rule. Shockingly, William Bizibu, from the DAPCB is the main architect and an active participant in the Parliamentary proceedings when he is not a Member of Parliament. What is even more bizarre is the Parliament’s insistence that it is invoking its powers of the High Court to summon witnesses and enforce their attendance. The power to summon witnesses does not confer adjudicatory powers of the High court, which is a Constitutional matter.
In those circumstances, our clients cannot be privy to nor participate in the offensive proceedings as they continue being pestered to do. The summons to produce documents to the Parliament committee can only await the adjudication of matters in controversy before the Constitutional Court,” The lawyers wrote.

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