CHAOS AS TYCOON BLOCKS GATE TO CHIEF JUSTICE’S RESIDENCE
By John V Sserwaniko
A city tycoon in the names of Haruna Sebaggala has laid claim on part of the land occupied by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe’s official residence in Nakasero. Sebaggala, a retired banker, who owns commercial premises on the nearby plot, says he has been a victim of aggression from the CJ’s residence since the days of Wako Wambuzi as Chief Justice. He bought the plot, adjacent to the CJ’s residence, in the early 1990s and suffered most when Katureebe’s predecessor Benjamin Odoki became CJ. Sebaggala acquired the property in the early 1990s from Rosette Kansiime, an ex-information ministry employee, to whom it was allocated by government as a sitting tenant. Back then, government policy changed from housing civil servants to allowing sitting tenants to pay some money and become owners of the residences. The exception, as demanded by Parliament, was only on State House, CJ’s official residence and a few others that couldn’t be turned into private properties. Available documentation shows that Kansiime immediately sold to Haruna Sebaggala and relocated to cheaper land in the suburbs. Sebaggala’s plot measures 88% of an acre and the CJ’s residence sits on approximately 2 acres (not very far from Emin Pasha Hotel).
According to KCCA ED Jennifer Musisi, in one of the numerous letters she has written on this matter, the CJ’s residence is on plot 2B Nakasero Road and Sebaggala’s is Plot 2D & 2E. Its two plots in one and the three plots were originally one land title belonging to Uganda Land Commission. Since acquiring the property in the early 1990s, Sebaggala has lived with three CJ neighbors including Samuel Wako Wambuzi, Benjamin Odoki and now Bart Katureebe but according to Odoki, in one of his numerous letters on the matter, many more CJs have lived at this residence since the inception of Uganda. In an interview with Mulengera news, Sebaggala tearfully explained that of the three CJs, Odoki gave him the hardest time and occasioned highest financial loss to him.
THE INSIDE STORY:
Sebaggala admits there was an informal footpath which government civil servants in occupation when government still owned the property often used as a short cut. He insists all that changed when ownership of the property changed and then KCC came up with new plans converting the entire Nakasero neighborhood from residential to commercial planning area. It actually became part of Kampala’s Central Business District permitting commercial developers (investors) to construct whatever business structures they chose subject to KCCA approval, which the US-educated Haruna Sebaggala duly obtained. He says when Odoki became CJ, replacing Wambuzi, he behaved very aggressively. He initially accused his neighbor Sebaggala of being a security threat and reported as much to police. Whereas Wambuzi had respected his neighbor’s private property rights, Odoki forcefully converted part of the land into a road accessing his residence. Sebaggala accuses Odoki of turning the access through his property into the main gate to CJ’s residence. Odoki’s police security detail also forcefully erected a police post (booth) on Sebaggala’s land ostensibly to secure the CJ’s home.
They also put security barricades effectively converting what used to be parking for Sebaggala’s tenants into a road leading to the CJ’s residence via the adhoc Main Gate Odoki had improperly created on the property. “I was surprised at his [Odoki’s] impunity because I didn’t know that being CJ means erecting the police post on your neighbor’s private property. The man was so aggressive; no compensation. Not even talking to you and it was hard to sue him because being Chief Justice, you can’t get much,” says Sebaggala who for the last three decades has had to expensively retain lawyers like Nsibambi Kimanje and Sam Mayanja of KAA among others to fight off the CJ aggression. A tearful Sebaggala explained in the Mulengera interview that all this encroachment by Odoki greatly depreciated the value of his property.
COUNTING THE LOSSES:
In the process he lost some tenants including the world NGO Save the Children whose Shs140m he had to refund besides facing a court suit for breach of contract. They paid money to rent one of his storied buildings on Plots 2D & 2E but he wouldn’t hand over to them the premises for occupation because of the inconveniences occasioned by the ex-CJ. Sebaggala said what Odoki turned into his access road was originally one of the roads leading to his property. “But because I had high profile clients, I decided to turn it into parking for my premises but instead he came and turned it into a road. It was my own tarmac which cost me hundreds of millions to pave using Multiplex Construction.
As soon as it was ready he came and forcefully took it over for his access road. They kept saying we are a security threat to the CJ’s residence,” explains the businessman who vows however much he gets oppressed by government, he won’t sell his property.
“I have really suffered because in early 2000s, the PGB that guards the President and Steven Kagoda who was PS Internal Affairs Ministry wrote a letter directing me to vacate my own property. We vacated because that is the state and PGB occupied both buildings free of charge for 7 years [2003-2010]. There was no payment but instead I was the one spending on water and electricity as they occupied my property.
The argument was they were assessing the security threat I posed to nearby State House, CJ’s residence and other high level installations but my neighbor Aya/Hilton Hotel [they share fences] came later and erected a 22 storied structure and nobody calls it security threat. I thought we are all investors. Why squeeze me only when the area is clearly now commercial and all these surrounding plots are due for commercial re-development? I have lost a lot here including my daughter failing to have a good education in Canada.
After S6 I had sent her to Canada to study in one of the best Universities having projected her fees would come from rent here,” says the retired banker as he struggles to hold back tears. But he vows to go down fighting. “Succumbing to this aggression would be to let down my children. I’m now an old man and I’m in this fight now for their sake.” He has heaps of correspondences, including letters from KCCA ED Jennifer Musisi and Uganda Land Commission, all backing up his claim to right not to be aggressed by the occupants of the CJ’s residence. In all her correspondences, some as recent as a few weeks ago, Jennifer Musisi maintains that Sebaggala has unfairly been treated and urges the Judiciary to stop trespassing on what clearly is the private developer’s land.
In the alternative, Musisi advises the Judiciary to engage Mr. Sebaggala and agree on some compensation for the road they improperly put on his property. She maintains that as far as KCCA is concerned there is no such a road similar to the one leading to the CJ’s main gate-passing through Mr. Sebaggala’s land.
However, in all his tears, Sebaggala is full of praises for the current CJ Bart Katureebe for the reasonableness and restraint with which he has acted since moving in to occupy the CJ’s residence. “He has been so reasonable and if his predecessor had acted in the same way, all this confrontation and loss of business wouldn’t have been occasioned. For instance on knowing of the dispute, he stopped using my parking as a road though police forcefully still operates one of their booths and posts in my land claiming this is meant to boost CJ’s security. Those police officers even use my toilets and other facilities and I meet the cost which shows I’m willing to peaceful co-exist with my neighbors. Whenever they have high level functions at CJ’s residence, the police come to use the top floors of my buildings to secure the event and I don’t charge them anything because I know my obligation to behave courteously towards my high profile neighbor,” Sebaggala explains as he inspects renovations at his property. “All these expenses I incur to regularly renovate are because of the way these so-called security people have been degrading my property since the days of Odoki. These days there is more harmony and it’s because of the restraint the new CJ has exhibited.” Odoki, who at some point behaved as if the property would become his personally at some point, was reportedly uncooperative and rarely responded to Sebaggala’s proposals for engagement as recommended by Jennifer Musisi whose surveyors and engineers wrote numerous reports clearly showing CJ Odoki’s insistence on the access road was legally unsustainable.
Sebaggala, who has lost many business opportunities as would-be serious tenants shun him fearing reprisals arising from the dispute with CJ, also commends Justice Wako Wambuzi who preceded Odoki in occupation of the CJ’s official residence. “He was very reasonable too and even helped us using his position to engage the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make the property more habitable when the Embassy of South Africa was still renting one of my buildings,” Haruna Sebaggala explains struggling to conceal how nostalgic he feels about Wambuzi’s days. In the last so many years, the adversity against Mr. Sebaggala has been very strong but the former Bank of Uganda employee has always fought on. He says “it’s some low profile people hiding in security to fight me hoping I can denounce my right to this property; it’s really not government because all of them including the President have been very supportive and defensive of my right to occupy and utilize my property as a pioneer investor in this area.” He suspects some low profile security officers had duped judiciary officials during Odoki’s days that the private developer could be frustrated and flee from his property and subsequently accept inadequate compensation. “They would then proceed to claim appropriate compensation from government using a proxy owner. That is what I think,” says Sebaggala who appears very reflective and cautious in whatever he says. “My friend we have been here long enough and know the dangers of being antagonistic to government. Why rush going to Court? Even if they treat you unfairly you remain calm and all your actions and utterances must be well measured. That way you won’t regret anything in life.” Insisting he prefers a low profile battle, the tycoon refused to be personally photographed and we had no option but to let him be provided he spoke on record. Despite the current mess at his property (it permanently looks like a construction site), Sebaggala still has some good tenants largely because of the suitability of his property’s location for office purposes. The tenants include Interswitch the makers of ATM cards for various banks, ATX technology the makers of telecom masts and indeed Sebaggala has a couple of telecom companies hosting their masts on the hill comprising of his prime plot just next to Aya (now (Pearl of Africa) Hotel. He also has law firms renting there. “They are here by God’s grace otherwise they wouldn’t be here given the impunity with which the CJ’s residence has mistreated me especially during Benjamin Odoki’s time. Can you imagine they forcefully planted all those trees just to decorate what Justice Odoki insisted was his access road?” I think they wanted it to look like the walk way road to White House but you do that on someone’s land because you are CJ? Life can really be unfair sometimes.” Sebaggala rhetorically explains as he points on the dozen palm trees that were planted on both sides of the drive way outside what Odoki forcefully turned into the main gate to the CJ’s residence. “You plant all that on private property and the owner keeps quiet. He doesn’t take you to court yet its clear criminal trespass and you still don’t appreciate dialogue as recommended by KCCA?” Sebaggala furiously wonders.
SEALS OFF CJ’S GATE:
As per now, taking advantage of Katureebe’s restraint and readiness to find a lasting amicable solution, Mr. Sebaggala has stationed heaps of building materials and heavy construction trucks outside what is supposed to be the main gate to CJ’s residence making it impossible for any CJ-related activities to take place there. To avoid ugly confrontation, Katureebe too has resorted to using what is supposed to be the emergency exit small behind gate to keep accessing his residence-and this is what all his high profile guests use. It’s small but gratefully large enough for vehicles to drive through.
KAYIHURA GOES TO SCENE:
The potentially very explosive situation has seen top government officials including Musisi and IGP Gen Kale Kayihura to visit the CJ’s residence to assess the situation. Insisting that the occupants of Sebaggala’s nearby premises would directly look into the CJ’s bedroom and thereby deprive the Principal of his much desired privacy, the Judiciary recently erected a glass wall/raised fence to create an obstruction between the CJ’s residence and offices in the upper floors at Sebaggala’s building. Its green in color otherwise security kept writing what Sebaggala calls fake intelligence reports categorizing his property as a breach to CJ’s security. “How can I be a security threat when I have allowed you unlimited access to always come to my property and occupy while assessing whatever you want?” Sebaggala argues in the Mulengera interview. Security insists that especially diplomats coming for dinners and cocktails or even meetings in CJ’s compound aren’t secure because of way Sebaggala’s high rise buildings imposingly overlook the residence. On getting these persistent reports, Kayihura has often come himself or sent high level police officers to assess the CJ’s security while at the Nakasero residence. Reliable government sources say that the matter has also been discussed many times between the President and the Finance Ministry whose officials recently proposed the relocation of the CJ’s residence. The premise for this is that this clearly is now a commercial as opposed to a residential area. They argue that it’s very costly to alter KCCA plans designating the entire area as part of the CBD because they are many developers similar to Sebaggala who will be erecting even higher rise buildings surrounding the CJ’s residence. “So how many more developers are you going to inconvenience the way Sebaggala has suffered? We must avoid that because it will hurt investor confidence and its double standards to treat him differently when you have Aya next door,” a finance ministry official told Mulengera news. The same source added that PSST Keith Muhakanizi is willing to allocate resources to finance the relocation of the CJ’s residence whereby the Nakasero property can be sold to private investors and a more befitting residence is constructed for the CJ in a more residential neighborhood.
KATUREEBE SPEAKS OUT:
We luckily got the opportunity to speak to the Chief Justice Bart Katureebe who confirmed existence of a dispute whereby his neighbor Sebaggala has written to KCCA alleging that some of the activities occasioned by the occupants of the CJ’s residence amount to criminal trespass onto his land. “It’s a very complex matter but I’m optimistic it will finally be resolved and a lasting solution found,” Katureebe explained to Mulengera news team. He confirmed raising the matter with KCCA ED Jeniffer Musisi whom he said has since assigned engineers who are going to work with his security to relocate the main gate to his residence in a manner that doesn’t downgrade or tress pass on Sebaggala’s private property. Sebaggala, who is full of praises for the flexibility and prudence with which Katureebe has approached the dispute, hopes that the value for his property is finally going to appreciate enabling him operate normally as a businessman. To comment on this and other Mulengera news stories, call/text us on 0703164755