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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Museveni gives out "source of the Nile"

KAMPALA/JINJA - President Yoweri Museveni has directed Jinja Municipal Council to dole out priceless land at the Source of the Nile to the Malaysian company, Persepec Prime, but the council opted for a concession, Jinja’s Mayor Mohammed Kezaala has said.

The directives to gift Persepec vantage land at the source of world’s longest river, were in form of letters from senior government officials who were only executing presidential orders, Kezaala revealed. “The directives were to lease the land, but we decided for a concession of five years. There are so many correspondences from Dr Suruma, Dr Kigozi and Prof. Nsibambi to my predecessor asking us to implement the directives of His Excellency,” Kezaala said in an interview on Monday. Daily Monitor has reportedly seen copies of letters from Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi, Finance Minister Ezra Suruma, Uganda Investment Authority boss Maggie Kigozi and Senior Presidential Adviser on Trade Onegi Obel, which communicated the directives.

Daily Monitor also reported that it has also learnt that Museveni met proprietors of Persepec Prime on March 10, 2005, in a meeting that sealed the deal. The team reportedly comprised the Managing Director, Hashimuddin Dato Abd Kadir, Uganda’s consul to Malaysia, an architect and designer, a consulting engineer, a chartered quantity surveyor, an environmental planner and landscape architect and a legal adviser. Other members of the team included an acoustic and sound consultant, a golf course architect and a financial adviser.

The group reportedly convinced Museveni that it was interested in developing a hydro-power plant at Kalagala falls, constructing a hotel and convention center on the shores of Lake Victoria and at the Source of the Nile and infrastructure for Chogm 2007. President Museveni was reportedly impressed by the idea, said a well-placed source. The investors had originally requested for 400 acres of land, Kezaala said, but Jinja Town Council turned down the request because “it was too big” and that some primary schools faced displacement. “We had given them 120 acres from the golf course, but it had encumbrances, so we settled for the Source of the Nile. We gave them 2-5 acres,” said Kezaala. Following the State House meeting, Museveni assigned Mr Onegi-Obel, State Minister for Defence Ruth Nankabirwa and Prof. Nsibambi to oversee the project.

Four days later, Prof. Nsibambi on March 14, wrote to Persepec Prime in a letter labelled “Most urgent” which formally started the plan. “Following the discussion between HE the President and Persepec Prime (Malaysia)… I wish to hereby convey to you the intention of the government of Uganda to enter into negotiations with your company towards the implementation of this project,” the letter reads in part. It was copied to President Museveni.

Four months later, according to correspondences, Onegi Obel, wrote to the then Mayor of Jinja, David Wakudumira, informing him that “pursuant to the first letter of intent directed by H.E the President…design work for the Source of the Nile Resort would be forwarded to his office and other national organisations…within the next 10 days.” Onegi-Obel informed the mayor that the project was meant to be a “Public private partnership comprising the Jinja Municipal Council, individual landlords, the Jinja Sports Club and the developers,” urging him to give them maximum cooperation. “Since the developers will wholly finance this and the other projects in their proposal to the government, it is important that we all accord them utmost cooperation,” he wrote in a letter dated July 27, 2005.

On October 13, 2005, Dr Suruma directed Dr Kigozi “to take the lead in facilitating the Malaysian investors in acquiring some pieces of land” for the project. According to designs for the project, which were submitted to Jinja Town Council, the Malaysian firm claimed it would construct a hotel with 100 rooms, an 18-hole golf course, a shopping arcade and recreational facilities. After two years of negotiations, on August 6, 2007, the council and Ms Source of the Nile Resort, the local representatives of Persepec Prime, signed the agreement that leased the source of the Nile land.

However, according to Kezaala, the project ran into trouble a few weeks before Chogm when contractors “were arrested for allegedly stealing iron bars.” “We are disgusted. We have left everything to the Prime Minister for a way forward,” said Kezaala before insisting: “We know that this is part of our national heritage, we could not simply give it away. This was only a concession agreement to the Malaysians to manage the facility on our behalf.

The giveaway has since sparked strong opposition from sections of the political leadership. In Parliament, Jinja Municipality West MP Harry Kasigwa put the government to task to explain the deal. “I want the minister to tell us who are these investors; what criterion was used and what concession did they sign; what amount are they supposed to pay the country?” he asked.
Investment’s Minister Ssemakula Kiwanuka was absent at prompting Energy Minister Daudi Migereko to stand in his defence. “We need time to be in a position to get aboard with the issues he is raising because we are not sure of the authenticity of the some of the information,” he said. “I will take this up with the relevant minister.”

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