By John V Sserwaniko
Enthused by the ever-improving performance by the Prof Ephraim Kamuntu-led Tourism ministry (bringing in Shs5trn in tourism receipts in 2018), President Museveni has taken steps aimed at harnessing Uganda’s tourism potential as a country. How has he done this? In his one page letter addressed to Lands Minister Betty Amongi, Museveni has indicated he wants the much-sabotaged Mahatma Ghandi Convention Center to be constructed in Entebbe as soon as possible. In his latest letter, Museveni directs Amongi to ensure that the 6 acre piece of land belonging to the Water/Environment Ministry in Entebbe is quickly availed for the construction of the Convention Center to begin. Gratefully, the cash is available courtesy of the Indian government that is giving GoU a grant to meet all the required construction expenses. In his letter, Museveni says a company called MSAK NetworkX Ltd is available and willing to partner with GoU to ensure the 650 room five star hotel is expeditiously constructed besides the Convention Center. This will provide the accommodation facilities required to make the Conference facility a one stop center. Museveni asserts to Amongi that “The donation of the Convention Center cannot further wait.” He concludes his three paragraph letter thus: “This is to direct you [Amongi] to allocate and lease 14 acres of land to the Convention Center, 6 acres to MSAK Network Ltd and the remaining to be utilized by the Ministry [of water] including [hosting] the Nile Basin Initiative. This directive should be implemented immediately and I should receive a report in 7 days. The project plans for MASK NetworkX Ltd’s are attached for ease reference.” The letter is copied to Vice President Sekandi, PR Rugunda and Ephraim Kamuntu.
There are fears the project, whose delay has caused the Indian government diplomatically protest to Kampala several times about the GoU’s unseriousness, might after all not be easily implemented as the President would like to see. This is so because of the large sums of money required to compensate people who have been settling on it over decades. The land previously was known as Manyago Housing Estates and housed civil servants working for the water ministry many of whom have since retired. In their absence, encroachment has been wide spread and according to Ministry of lands official Bogezi Yasin Swad, not less than Shs24bn will be required for their compensation. It’s only after such compensation that the developer will be able to access the site and commence the construction of the 5 star hotel. During his recent visit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to commission the construction works on the Convention Center but this never happened because the officials from the ministries of Lands, Tourism and Foreign Affairs were still failing to find vacant land which the Indian leader and Museveni would tour before laying the foundation stone for the Convention Center. Saying there was no vacant land in Entebbe, the lands ministry had suggested taking up the Madhvani Group land in Kajjansi Nakigalala where the Convention Center can be situated. State House objected saying the suitability of Nakigalala had to be studied first. In the end, the Indian big man left crestfallen and angered by the Ugandan mediocrity that resulted into him leaving without ground breaking at Entebbe. Instead organizers took him to Jinja Source of the Nile where he did ground breaking for something related. Sources say Museveni was angry and rang the three ministers concerned to show his displeasure. In their responses, the three ministers engaged in blame game with some insisting Entebbe (that risks killing off Sudhir’s business) was totally out of the picture. This prompted Museveni to wonder why land can’t be found even after the Water ministry has in writing committed to surrender the land. In one of his numerous letters to the President regarding this matter, foreign affairs minister Okello Oryem hints on the possibility of Ugandan officials’ ineptness complicating the Indian-Uganda diplomatic relationship. In fact some sources say the infighting and disorganization among technocrats of the three ministries (lands, tourism and foreign affairs) is the reason Uganda benefited least from Modi’s visit compared to what other African countries he visited benefited.
The latest Amongi letter shows Museveni’s determination to have the Convention Center and accompanying hotel facilities constructed in the Entebbe hinterland. But the successful completion of such a five star hotel facility in Entebbe will be bad news for city property mogul Sudhir Ruparelia whose Speke Resort Munyonyo will inevitably lose the business of hosting the international conferences it has been taking from government on the account of being the best facility around. And the completion of Entebbe Express way had helped overcome the traffic jams and increased access to Munyonyo by international guests coming for international conferences. Officials are already saying the President’s insistence to have the Indian government-funded Convention Center constructed in Entebbe will occasion significant loss of business for Sudhir. “And being a government-owned facility will mean the Entebbe Convention Center is what government MDAs must use each time they are organizing an international conference and you can simply not avoid it given its proximity to the Airport,” said a knowledgeable State House official. Sources say that the Sudhir sympathizers are increasingly becoming nervous over this impending loss of business and (for unknown reasons) they are putting much of the blame on the president’s hard working PPS Molly Kamukama. For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755.