MP Muhanga probed over UBC land

Burahya County MP Margaret Muhanga yesterday got the best of her House committee colleague after they put her on the spot to answer how she bought 23 acres of public land at Shs10 billion

PARLIAMENT.

Burahya County MP Margaret Muhanga yesterday got the best of her House committee colleague after they put her on the spot to answer how she bought 23 acres of public land at Shs10 billion.

When the Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises was auditing the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), Ms Muhanga, who is also a member on the committee, was asked to take to the witness stand to respond to suspicions of money laundering and fraud.

To take her on as lead council for the committee was former Public Accounts chairman and Budadiri West MP, Nandala Mafabi.

Although the committee was, at first, lenient with Ms Muhanga as a colleague, they later decided to force her to take oath on grounds that she was being uncooperative and a little arrogant in her responses to the lead counsel’s questions.

Excerpts
Nandala Mafabi: Do you have anything to do with land in UBC?
Muhanga: I came with my lawyer to explain that matter and I will hand over to him.
Chairperson Anita Among: The question is do you have any knowledge in regards to UBC land?
Muhanga: Yes I do
Mafabi: How much did you buy?
Muhanga: That’s between me and the seller. It’s between me and the seller I didn’t buy it from the public.
Mafabi: I think this is a hostile witness we shall need to put her on oath.
In 2014, Ms Muhanga bought 23 acres of land belonging to Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC). Although the committee insisted that the land was public land, Ms Muhanga insisted that that it was not at the time of the sale since she bought it through auctioneers, who were selling on an order of court.
The committee had to press Ms Muhanga harder to get her say how much she paid for the land.
However, more questions arose when she said she paid Mr Gordon Twinamatsiko, yet he also appears on the same court ruling with Muhanga as party to the court case in which court ordered that the land be sold.
“The court document here shows that the case was UBC Vs Habba Group, Twinamasiko and Margaret Muhanga. How do you pay somebody whom you are appearing on the same case?” Mr Mafabi wondered.
Uncomfortable with the line of questioning, Ms Muhanga said, “This is becoming like mob justice on me.”
“If this is not mob justice, why can’t other people take oath and why isn’t my lawyer being allowed to speak. Why the interest in me as a person?” she wondered.
It was the questioning on the currency she carried that threw the committee into fits of laughter.
Mafabi: In which currency was it and how did you carry it?
Muhanga: Money is small when carried in another currency.
Mafabi: In which currency was it?
Muhanga: In Uganda currency.
Mafabi:Did you declare the source of your money?
Muhanga: It was not required.
Mafabi: It was required. Transfer happened on 10 April 2014. By 2014, the Money Laundering Act was in place. Which bank did you draw the money?
Muhanga: I had it in cash.
Mafabi: What was the source of the money?
Muhanga: Cows, goats and everything.
Mafabi: Did you record tax returns after the sale of your goats?
Muhanga: I borrowed from family and friends.
Mafabi: Do you have agreements from those you borrowed from?
Muhanga: Family members do not need agreements.

The background

In 2011, this newspaper covered a series of stories about the irregular sale of land and property by UBC, the public broadcaster.

In most cases, prime pieces of land had been sold quietly at below market rates and the buyers had, in some cases, sold it off soon after for twice the price. The revelations had forced the removal of the UBC board and later, the resignation of Information minister Kabakumba Matsiko.

In June that year, we further revealed that Extreme Innovations, a company associated with Kabakumba’s successor, Mary Karooro Okurut, and former MP Margaret Muhanga, had received a 49-year-lease to a prime piece of land in Kampala belonging to UBC.

The land was being sold, via public auction, to Muhanga, potentially leaving UBC out of pocket and out of land. In the Lands Office, the land went through three changes of ownership, at 2.42pm, at 2.44pm, and at 2.46pm, ending up in Muhanga’s hands.

A High Court judge ruled: “I find that this whole transaction from beginning to end was a well-thought out and calculated fraud by all the parties involved, the applicants inclusive” and ordered the UBC be given back its land titles and the land.

After grilling Ms Muhanga yesterday, the committee insisted that Muhanga respects the court ruling and takes back the land title to UBC.

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