By Ojok Smith
Gulu: Will government survive fire for favouring foreign investors all the time against local businessmen?
Moreover, when this is supposed to be a government by the people and for the people?
Currently the government of Uganda is under heavy fire for over-pampering foreign investors and leaving the indigenous ones to wallow in financial quagmire until they are forced out of business, especially due to heavy debt burden.
The concern has been raised by a section of local investors after news leaked that the government plans to bail out Roko Construction Limited, a construction and civil engineering company owned by foreigners, which is almost bankrupt, by buying into it 150,000 Preferential Shares worth UGX 202Bn.
A colossal sum of money by any standard, yet there are so many local investors that have been denied an opportunity for local redemption.
According to information from credible sources, the proposal was tabled this week before parliament by Finance Minister Matia Kasija.
The aim for this move is to bailout Roko Construction Limited which has been sued for bankruptcy by its creditors for failing to pay its debts.
But this is the same scenario that has been faced by many local entrepreneurs and yet government never came to their rescue. The question is why?
What has further raised eyebrows amongst local investors is the haste with which the government is handling this matter to ensure parliament passes a supplementary budget as quickly as possible to bailout Roko Construction.
Besides that, whereas foreign investors enjoy tax holidays from government worth billions of shillings, the same government subjects local investors to unbearable tax burdens, thereby creating an imbalance in the economy.
Worse still, some local investors do not even require financial assistance from government but all they need is intervention to allow foreign lenders to restructure their loans for a reasonable period say 2-3 years grace period or allow them to charge interest only until the enterprise recovers and starts posting reasonable profit so as to create a free, fair and balanced economy.
Many of our local investors have lost property to exploitative foreign moneylenders or Banks without the government, as regulator, lifting a finger, while others have died as a result of the depression and stress they suffer after banks have auctioned off their properties.
A case in point in former Greenland Bank proprietor Dr. Suleiman Kiggundu, Christopher Sembuya, formerly the proprietor of Sembuule Group of Companies, among others who died after suffering severe financial stress without government lifting a finger.
There are also many local investors who are suffering the same strain and neglect and are likely to give up doing business in their motherland unless the government revises its approach towards local investors, among them is Patrick Bitature of Simba Group, whose property is being distressed by a group of South Africa based investors known as Vantage Mezzanine Group who claim he owes them USD 32,064,075 (about Shs117Bn).
Every effort by Bitature to redeem his properties which include; Skyz Hotel Naguru, Moyo Close Apartments and Elizabeth Apartments has so far proved fruitless and sources close to him reveal that not even his appeals to high-ranking government authorities to intervene in the matter have yielded any fruits. Yet Roko is being bailed out.
Another local investor facing the same fate is city architect Peter Kamya, whose property Simbamanyo House and Afrique Suites Hotel were auctioned by Equity Bank under dubious circumstances.
Equity Bank sold Simbamanyo House to Sudhir Ruparelia’s Meera Investments for US$ 5 million. According to Kamya, the property was worth over US$ 12 million. Moreover, this was property that was fully occupied by a government ministry. Why did the government not come to the rescue of Simbamanyo, its landlord? Yet it is coming to the rescue of Roko, a foreign company?
Kamya’s appeal to President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was thwarted by a hatchet of people who made sure that the President was not given the right information and true picture about the transaction.
Besides Bitature and Kamya, there is a host of other local investors on the verge of losing their properties to foreign investors and government refusal to intervene, among them Haj Habib Kagimu, the proprietor of Habib Oil, Electro-Maxx and other ventures. Kagimu, who was a few years ago one of the pillars among Ugandan local investors, is battling financial challenges.
The Head of the Commercial Court Justice Stephen Mubiru recently ruled that Kagimu’s properties should be auctioned off by foreign investors who allege that he owes them over Shs3.36Bn, although he contests this amount.
The properties to go under the hammer are situated on Busiro Block 401 Plots 483 and 489 at Bwebajja Wakiso district, and land on LRV 345 Folio 20 plot 18 at Wampewo Avenue in Kololo, Kampala.
There is also a couple, Stephen Paul Ssendagire and Pamela Arinaitwe, who a few years ago lost their school known as Bright Future Vocational Secondary School along Entebbe Road after city businessman Godfrey Kirumira a well-known surrogate of Sudhir Ruparelia, seized it with after conniving with Dfcu bank.
It was said then that Sendagire and Arinaitwe in 2005 borrowed money from Dfcu Bank to expand the school, but along the way run into difficulties like Roko .
But instead of listening to them, Dfcu Bank officials sold the school to Kirumira, without informing either Ssendagire or Arinaitwe and of course the person who gave Kirumira the money was Sudhir, through his now defunct bank Crane Bank.
Sources reveal that Ssendagire and Arinaitwe petitioned President Museveni to intervene in the matter by stopping Kirumira from taking over the school but they were never allowed to see the President to explain their plight.
Others like Meddie Ssebagala, former proprietor of Ssebagala And Sons Electrical Centre, have accepted their fate and watched on helplessly as bailiffs took over their properties and business entities, although surprisingly, most of these cases have Sudhir leering in the background.
There are so many other local investors who have suffered the same fate among them Fort Portal businessman, George Begumisa, Capt. Joseph Charles Roy, Muhammad, Muyanja Mbabali, Senana Investment, among others.
Some time back General Salim Saleh had worked out a project/ scheme of assisting/bailing out local investors that were in financial stress but this was shot down by government bureaucrats, call them apologists and was never allowed to see the light of day. Yet the government continues to float these hare-brained schemes to assist foreign investors.
Two years ago, government offered promissory notes worth billions of shillings to an Italian lady to put up a hospital in Lubowa but to date, several years down the line, nothing is coming out of the ground.
Recently the same woman was offered a monopoly at the exclusion of the Ugandan coffee growers to buy Ugandan Coffee at a price of her choosing.
Besides the ‘Italian investor,’ another lady, a Somali identified as Amina Hersy, was given over UGX 200 billion to sink into Attiak Sugar factory. Today the factory is on the verge of collapse.
Of recent, we have started seeing American musicians like Kanye West and Akon, plus film actor Howard Terrence also being welcomed to the country as investors, being treated to state-funded dinners and vacations, at the expense of the tax payers!
Uganda is fast becoming the fake investors playground. We export our able-bodied young men and women to the middle east to become slaves and pamper foreign investors at the expense of local ones.
Who, then, will be left to develop our country?
Foreign investors are supposed to bring money into the country but not take ours!!!! That is why they are called foreign investors and all they do is profit repatriation.
The other day some fake investors of Asian origin had the cheek and temerity to petition parliament that locals should not be allowed to eat mpuuta (Nile Perch) so they can export it all!