The government has set its sights on an estimated 100 acres of land, including the piece housing the controversial J&M Hotel in Bwebajja, Entebbe road.
The Observer has reliably learnt that President Museveni recently urged government to consider buying it to house some ministries. But Mr Museveni also believes that buying the hotel would be a good thing as it would help a supporter of the National Resistance Movement, who owns the facility.
The Observer has seen a letter in which Museveni directs Presidency Minister Frank Tumwebaze, to follow up the matter with Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Attorney General Peter Nyombi and the ministries of Public Service and Finance. The president’s suggestion follows an appeal by Mary Goodra Behakanira, the widow of Joseph Behakanira, who owned the property.
“The widow of the late Behakanira has appealed to me to buy their hotel at Bwebajja so that government can use the properties they have built there to turn them into offices for government, a university, a hospital or whatever else we may want to utilize them for,” reads Museveni’s letter to Tumwebaze dated November 5, 2012.
The president believes this could be a good deal.
"If you take the mere question of the money the government spends on rent per annum, you will see the wisdom of slowly getting out of that trap. The government spends approximately Shs100bn per annum on rent. In five (5 years), this would amount to approximately Shs 500bn".
The president also believes that buying the land would be one way of helping Goodra Behakanira, whom he describes as "our supporter".
The president's letter is copied to the vice president, prime minister, third deputy prime minister, Finance minister and Attorney General. Mrs Behakanira admitted to The Observer that the property has been on sale for some time to help her clear bank loans left behind by her late husband, but she was non committal on whether she had urged the government to buy it.
Presidential Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi was unaware of the project when we contacted him yesterday. He instead referred us to Tumwebaze whose phones were unavailable by press time.
J&M Hotel came to prominence when it was first listed as one of the hotels lined up to host delegates for the 2007 Commonwealth summit.
Its proprietor, Joseph Behakanira, was controversially given Shs 2.4bn to complete 200 rooms, three days to the start of the summit. He died in 2010, a day after being grilled by Parliamentís Public Accounts Committee over the deal.
The Busiro South MP, Joseph Balikuddembe, in whose constituency the land is located, welcomed the idea of government acquiring the property, saying it would decongest the city. However, he said the process shouldn't be handled by political leaders but rather technical staff in the ministry of Lands.
Some of the government ministries and agencies now renting office space include the Judiciary, the ministries of Justice, Local Government, Gender, DPP, Uganda Road Fund and the DPP. Several of these bodies have complained of inadequate space and high rental costs in their 2012/2013 ministerial policy statements.
The ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs says in its statement:
"The Judiciary has no suitable headquarters for its operations. It rents nearly half of the court premises countrywide. Such reliance on the private sector (for rent) does not augur well with the level of integrity and independence expected of the Judiciary".
Parliament recently approved a request by the ministry to build a complex for the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) at a cost of Shs 55bn, to be provided in phases of Shs 10bn every year. Parliament also asked the government to give the Electoral Commission money to construct its own offices/stores.
"The commission headquarters continues to be housed in an unplanned and dilapidated structure. Similarly, the commission lacks its own storage facilities both at the headquarters and at the districts", the statement said.
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