The way Uganda has mismanaged the departed Asians properties cases over the years can be compared to a playful and irresponsible little boy walking on a slippery path while carrying a basket full of eggs on his head.
Knowingly or unknowingly, Parliament opened a Pandora box when it last year started a probe into the Departed Asians Custodians Board which for the past three decades was tasked with the management of the affairs of transferring the properties to Ugandan Asians who were expelled from the country in the early 1970s by the then Head of State Idi Amin Dada.
The Milton Obote II and Yoweri Kaguta Museveni governments realized the mistake made by Amin and opened the doors for Asians who wanted to return home to do so, while those who wish to remain in their host countries to repossess their properties which had fallen into hands of either government or grabbers.
The Departed Asians Custodians Board was formed and while some managed to repossess their properties, stories of fraud and property shacks have over the years come to the fore, leaving property owners in tears, while conmen and fraudster swindled these properties without paying any fees.
Stories of how Ugandan Asians were expelled haunts them till today, just like how they have been denied access to their properties over the last four decades.
Dictator Idi Amin Dada could have been toppled in 1979 but ghosts of his actions still linger over his victims, most now living in Canada, United Kingdom and other parts of the world.
Whereas this community which left with nothing might have worked hard and prospered in their new homes, but many have never forgotten that Uganda is home to their families and ancestors.
It is however, the shabby manner government officials and individual citizens have treated them that has kept them off accessing their properties or even returning here to live and invest.
Take for instance, hundreds of families have complained how their properties were grabbed, but every time they claim them, they are slapped with court injunctions, which has made it difficult and untenable for relocate to Uganda or make good use of these properties which are located in Kampala’s Old Kampala, Nakasero; or Jinja, Mbale, Masaka, Kamuli among other places.
With a Parliamentary Probe Committee under Cosase compiling its report, it has emerged that hundreds of Ugandan Asians especially who settled in Canada and United Kingdom have never repossessed their properties. Instead, greedy fellow Asians and powerful individuals took over their properties and have used courts and other means to scare them off.
When government allowed Asians to repossess their property, many of them in exile thought it was a ploy to lure them back into danger. Some shied away, others remained silent while some signed powers of attorney to manage their properties to some ‘trusted’ individuals.
When Watchdog visited Canada recently where MPs met with some of the families who owned properties in Uganda, untold stories emerged, especially among members of the Ismaili community, where fellow Ismailis were given powers of attorney but instead robbed them with utter impunity.
This website heard testimonies from teary people who told stories of one of the members of the Ismaili community, now one of Uganda’s richest fraternity, who actually charged them $3,000 to help them repossess their properties, which never happened, but instead, went ahead to grab these properties. This particular individual, according to information we got, was declared bankrupt in Vancouver in 1991. It is surprising that he took to another business of property management in Uganda, yet, it is illegal in this country for anyone declared bankrupt by a competent court, to manage businesses.
The exercise has actually damaged its image, with many children and grand children of families that left the country now emerging as political, business and academic leaders in countries they immigrated to, after the Amin debacle.
One fact one cannot overlook, according to testimonies, is the belief that conmen who have either transferred titles into their own names, or, collect rent from the said properties, lie to these Ugandan Asians that it is the government that has held on their properties. This is the excuse they have been giving for not remitting fees arising from these properties.
MPs on Cosase say, the law is coming for these people sooner than later.
Among people facing courts soon are land board officials who have been making illegal entries, a fraudulent act, as well as lawyers of beneficiaries who transact on behalf of illegal landlords. There is a group in the Attorney General’s chambers who frustrate and make cases of Asians who go to court vulnerable to unjust judgements.
Mr George Bizibu, the executive secretary of the Custodians Board says Ugandan Asians who have proof of ownership of their properties should come out and claim them. Mistakes made on their properties, according to the Custodians Board, will be corrected now that they have been realised.
These mistakes are dangerous because countries where such lapses in judgement were made by authorities have never recovered. Case in point was Zimbabwe and Cuba in Central America.
Uganda could be sitting on time bomb.
Lawyers in Canada say, they are organizing to represent their clients who for three decades have failed to regain their property, or, gain from them. They want to compel the Uganda government to make full payment for illegally denying rights of the rightful owners to these properties.
President Museveni government has stated it in his various speeches that Asians were a pillar in Uganda’s society, given the fact that they control over 60 per cent of Uganda’s economy. The government cannot afford to act like the little playful girl carrying eggs in basket… the collapse of the economy in 1870s and examples of Zimbabwe and Cuba are lessons any government worth the salt should realise that consequences of denying a group of people their right to access their properties, could be costly.
In subsequent publications we shall bring out stories of how grabbers took over different properties of Ugandan Asians without their consent, by force or fraud.
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