By Ivan Mwine
Concerned Ugandans, among them city architect Peter Kamya, are wondering why most people in the country are literally crucifying tycoon Patrick Bitature, for relying on a legal technicality to save his business empire, yet Sudhir Ruparelia does the same.
The courts let Sudhir off the hook after he siphoned millions of dollars from his now defunct bank i.e. Crane bank, citing that Crane bank in receivership could not sue him.
He also got away with a string of the bank’s branch buildings citing another technicality that Crane bank, as a foreign bank, could not own the title deeds to those properties.
Why is it now that a technicality has been discovered in Bitature’s loan agreements everybody is baying for his blood and demanding that he should pay up?
It is a pity that we Africans have been trained to devour our own at the drop of a hat.
This is a foreign driven agenda started way back in the 80s especially in the third world countries by suppressing if not collapsing completely local entrepreneurs.
Actually, former Finance Minister Dr. Ezra Suruma once said that; “Ugandans will remain poor as long as they cannot own/control their banks and financial institutions. Without capital, Ugandans are destined to be slaves in Middle East however educated they will be.”
It should be noted that whereas the long term strategy for Uganda should be to grow and deepen a healthy and harmonious economic and political environment which merits attracting investment, this is very difficult for local investors because they are often disenfranchised by foreign lenders.
This means it is the citizens and their governments who have the long-term stake in their country and economy to be the real investors willing to take the investment risk, instead of foreigners.
It is them that can make the economy grow and the country attractive to foreign investors and all.
Regrettably the long standing obsession of government with the magical foreign investors at the expense of the local investors is shameful to say the least, and government is unwittingly fuelling this agenda.
There must be a deliberate strategy of building a local business and industrial class investing in local businesses and training a pool of skilled labour for value added production.
It is wrong for government to pursue a policy of ignoring the local investor by not caring who owns the industries as long as they pay tax.
The heavy lifting to move a country’s economic depredation cannot be done by foreigners.
It must be necessarily the business of local investors and their businesses plus the political leadership.
The Uganda government has been glued on chasing the elusive foreign investor and cannot see something as basic and crushing as the high cost of credit to be a huge hindrance to local business success and value added production.
It is regrettable that we as Africans i.e. the ones that make the biggest percentage of local investors, have been discriminated against all along through the colonial period and the current government is not ashamed to take us back to those days when the Indians were allowed to dominate our economy.
The Indians were expelled by Idi Amin but are back with vengeance and in the process have captured the political leadership to their advantage.
They have repossessed all the properties they were originally compensated for and have embarked on an acquisition spree of local business like never before.
Businesses have been deliberately put under crushing credit by the predatory banks under the watch of the political leadership which has done absolutely nothing to come to the rescue of the struggling local investors.
Recently, several local investors have faulted the government for not protecting them against the economic challenges they are facing, compared to their foreign counterparts.
The said investors argue that although the government encourages Ugandans to Buy Uganda and Build Uganda (BUBU), the same government has neglected the fact that local investors make up a big percentage of the country’s economy and therefore need amenable policies to protect them.
A case in point is city architect Peter Kamya, the proprietor of Simbamanyo Properties Limited, whose properties Simbamanyo House and Afrique Suites Hotel were controversially auctioned by (a foreign bank) Equity Bank, to Sudhir Ruparelia’s Meera Investments Limited.
Others include late Christopher Ssembuya and Henry Buwule of Ssembule Investments Limited, plus Bonny M Katatumba who all died disgruntled men after the government refused to come to their rescue, the same situation Gordon Wavamunno of WBS Television and Mohan Kiwanuka of Oscar Industries, suffered.
Bitature is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Vantage Mezzanine Fund II Partnership, a group of South African moneylenders, who claim he failed to service a USD10M that he secured from them.
Following the impasse, Vantage Mezzanine now wants to auction some of Bitature’s properties which include; Skyz Hotel Naguru, Elizabeth Royal Apartments in Kololo and Moyo Close Apartments, which houses the head offices for Bitature’s Simba Telecom company.
However, Bitature’s lawyers claim that the legal dispute between Simba Properties Investment Co. Ltd and the South Africa-based lender was settled on May 9th, 2022, when High Court Judge Justice Musa Ssekaana ruled in Miscellaneous Application No. 206 of 2022, that Vantage Mezzanine Fund II Partnership was not duly registered as a partnership in Uganda and, therefore, lacked a legal identity to sue or be sued.
Justice Ssekaana ruled that Vantage Mezzanine Fund II Partnership does not have any legal presence, existence or locus standing to file the suit.
It should be noted that Bitature’s lawyers of Muwema & Co. Advocates relied on the above legal technicality in a bid to get their client off the hook.
But it should be noted that Sudhir did the same thing.
Sudhir was in 2017 sued by Bank of Uganda and Crane Bank in Receivership for siphoning over Shs397M from his defunct Crane Bank, which the Central Bank had earmarked for recapitalizing before it was put under receivership.
Crane Bank Under Receivership and Bank of Uganda also wanted court to compel Sudhir to produce hundreds of land titles that he had taken as collateral security from several Ugandans who had secured loans from Crane Bank.
However, although the money that Sudhir reportedly siphoned from Crane Bank was tax payers’ money that had been forked out of the national treasury, Crane Bank in receivership and Bank of Uganda lost the case after Justice David Wangutusi dismissed the matter in August 2019.
Justice Wangutusi based on the legal technicality that Crane Bank in Receivership had no legal capacity to sue or be sued vide Civil Suit No. 493 of 2017, thereby granting Sudhir victory, despite the fact that court had all the mandate to compel him to refund the tax payers’ money.
Indeed, Sudhir is a businessman who has mastered the art of riding on legal technicalities so much so that last year he employed the same ploy to secure his illegal takeover of city architect Peter Kamya’s Simbamanyo House.
It is thus not surprising that Bitature’s lawyers of Muwema & Company Advocates relied on a legal technicality to trounce Vantage Mezzanine II Fund.
The public should not vilify them for that. What is good for the goose is good for the gander!