PROBE INTO THEFT OF COOPERATIVE ALLIANCE PROPERTIES WORTH OVER SHS100BN KICKS OFF AFTER COURT HUMILIATES REGISTRAR KITANDWE
By Mulengera Reporters
Investigations into the theft of prime properties of the Uganda Cooperative Alliance (UCA) have kicked off, General Secretary (GS) Ivan Asiimwe confirmed Wednesday in Kampala.
An annual General Meeting (AGM) held three months ago passed a resolution to find out which officials had sold off the properties estimated at over Shs100bn, with a plan to force them vomit the money or be sent to the coolers.
Asiimwe listed the properties as: houses in Bugolobi, Kansanga and Lugogo bypass, a plot at UMA, 16 acres of land in Kajjansi, and over 10 blocks of land scattered around Kampala and Wakiso.
UCA’s GS said the few properties left included mortgaged buildings in Naguru.
“We lost all the properties; we are left with only this building [the structure that houses UCA offices along Nkrumah Road],” said Asiimwe.
Other issues the five-member team picked by members are looking into include billions that were withdrawn from the UCA account but have never been accounted for.
The probe team will also be investigating conditions under which Registrar of Cooperatives Joseph William Kitandwe spent Shs130m on MTC Associates & Certified Public Accountants for an audit yet the alliance was only spending Shs6m per annum on this role.
Although there are already security concerns for Asiimwe and his allies at UCA, the investigations are expected to dig deeper into the loss of land and buildings, and scores of former officials could be indicted.
With High Court ordering Kitandwe to stop interfering in the affairs of the alliance, an apex body for all cooperatives in the country, the group of investigators hope to do their work unhindered.
Meanwhile, the AGM also approved the dismissal of Board Vice Chairman Ismail Jacan Oyenya.
WAR AT UCA
Besides the probe, the alliance has faced a plethora of controversies, at the centre of which is Kitandwe, UCA Board and Administration.
According to Asiimwe, the conflicts at UCA started when he was appointed at the start of January 2017 to replace his ailing predecessor. His appointment was coldly received by Billy Butamanya, then the deputy GS, who had been warming up for a promotion.
“He [Butamanya] said I am too young to be General Secretary,” recalls Asiimwe.
While Butamanya is 65, Asiimwe is only 44.
The GS accuses Kitandwe and Butamanya of hatching multiple schemes to kick him out office because “they fear that investigations will implicate them.”
For example, in October 2019, Kitandwe wrote to Board Chairman Johnas Tweyambe, and copied Amelia Kyambadde, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Fredrick Gume Ngobi, the junior minister in charge of cooperatives, and junior trade minister Michael Werikhe Kafabusa, informing board and management that “an investigation is going to be instituted with immediate effect.” He further ordered “affected officials [Tweyambe and Asiimwe] to hand over office to their immediate deputies as soon as possible.”
According to the letter dated October 24, 2019, a copy of which Mulengera News has seen, the issues Kitandwe accused Asiimwe and Tweyambe of included fraud, uttering false documents, impersonation, and failure to comply with legal statutory requirements “which have indicated huge sums of unpaid remittances to URA with probable fines and penalties to the institution.”
With the Cooperatives Registrar’s scheme of kicking them out now clearer than ever before, Tweyambe and Asiimwe rushed to the High Court seeking a judicial review. The duo also teamed up with UCA board Vice Chairperson Emmanuela Oroma, board member Bernard Olaro and Treasurer Rev Fr Emmanuel Safari to petition Kyambadde.
ACCUSATIONS AGAINST KITANDWE
In their petition dated January 13, 2020, Asiimwe and his colleagues argued that it was “unfortunate and implausible for Kitandwe, who by law, policy and design ought to be a mentor and pillar for cooperatives in Uganda with expected highest level of esteem [to] instead [be] the architect and origin of confusion.”
“His improper conduct and motives have the effect of suffocating and killing the cooperative movement in general, and the Uganda Cooperative Alliance specifically,” they added.
They also accused Kitandwe of registering a parallel apex body named the National Alliance of Agricultural Cooperatives in Uganda.
“This team is working tooth and nail to remove UCA from the Cooperatives Act through the new Cooperative Amendment process by replacing UCA with a statement that reads ‘there shall be an Apex’ instead of reference to UCA as the Apex body,” they further argued.
The five UCA bosses also asked line ministers “to stop him [Kitandwe] from micromanaging UCA and to replace him with another representative of the ministry on the UCA Board.”
They further noted that Kitandwe had become a legal liability, costing government a lot of money in litigation cases involving cooperatives such as Mwizi Sacco, Banyankore Kweteerana, and Rubabo Sacco.
“Most of the court cases against the registrar emanate from personal interests,” they claimed.
They further accused him of circulating forged resolutions on social media platforms, particularly Whatsapp.
He was also blamed for attempting to block two AGMs, hence “denying UCA members an opportunity to listen and deliberate on matters affecting their organization.” These meetings included one held on November 21, 2019.
According to the petition seen by this news publication, the five top bosses further fired back at Kitandwe for mobilizing some UCA members to petition him over their alleged misconduct.
THE COURT VICTORY
Before petitioning line ministers, Asiimwe and Tweyambe had rushed to court seeking orders, including the quashing of Kiandwe’s decision to conduct an investigation on them and UCA, as well as his order to force them out office.
Lucky for the duo, Justice Andrew Bashaija’s February 14, 2020 ruling gave them a new lease of life in office. Bashaija ruled that Kitandwe’s decisions to throw the duo out of office, force them to hand over office to their deputies and conduct investigations were “illegal, ultravires, biased, highhanded and irrational.”
In dismissing Kitandwe’s decisions, Bashaija reasoned that forcing Asiimwe and Tweyambe out of office to pave way for a probe “amounted to a decision to suspend the applicants and commence an investigation, all of which were clearly done in contravention of the law.”
Section 52 of the Cooperative Societies Act requires that the Board be consulted before and during a probe, something Kitandwe failed to do.
“Being a corporate body, the Registrar’s powers had to be exercised in strict conformity with the law and after due consultation,” ruled Bashaija.
The Judge also noted that a board investigations committee’s report had found Asiimwe innocent yet “recommended further investigation” on allegations of forging resolution. Similarly, the committee had not found Tweyambe guilty of any wrongdoing.
He further observed that a meeting with Minister Gume had not resolved to probe or suspend Asiimwe and Tweyambe yet Kitandwe went ahead and ordered the duo out of office.
“It was apparent that he [Kitandwe] was acting in bad faith,” ruled Bashaija, further convicting the Cooperatives boss of “bias”, and of refusal to respect the duo’s right to “a fair hearing.”