Minister David Bahati denies benefiting from South Sudan compensation

Minister David Bahati denies benefiting from South Sudan compensation
The State Minister for Finance in charge of Planning, David Bahati

The State Minister for Finance in charge of Planning, David Bahati has denied owning a company that benefited from compensation over loss of business in South Sudan.

Bahati was on Wednesday appearing before Parliament’s Select Committee that is currently inquiring into a payment of Shs 40 billion to 10 Ugandan companies that supplied goods to South Sudan contrary to a 3rd April, 2018 parliamentary resolution in which a bilateral agreement between South Sudan and Uganda approved payment to 33 Ugandan companies.

Bahati told the committee that even if he owned a company in South Sudan, he wouldn’t accept to be part of the on-going compensation process.

“So I would really request madam chair that those who are crying for me should leave me,” said Bahati.

The payment is part of a request by the government through ministry of Finance seeking parliamentary approval, to clear a debt of Shs 151 billion owed to Ugandan traders and companies by the South Sudanese government. The traders supplied goods and services from 2008 but were never paid following a conflict that started in 2013.

The statements by Bahati followed questions by the Select Committee chairperson Anna Maria Nankabirwa in which she said that her committee had received information alleging that Bahati’s companies were part of those defrauded in South Sudan and are in a process of being compensated.

She named some of the companies allegedly owned by Bahati as M/S Kaimat Enterprises, M/S Jan Jang Company Limited and M/S Nile Site Company.

“They are not saying that you did not supply, they are not saying that you’re listing for what you did not supply. They are actually listing you as the owner of those companies that had been defrauded in South Sudan and one of the companies is M/S Kaimat Enterprises – the proprietor and contact person said to be Hon Bahati David. The next one is M/S Jan Jang Company Limited whose proprietor is Hon Bahati and it also dealt in grain. The other one is M/S Nile Site company whose proprietor is also thought to be Hon Bahati. And these companies, nobody is complaining that they did not supply but they are listed among those that were defrauded. They are several of them, so we just wanted to know if you were also part of the casualties,” Nakabirwa put it to Bahati.

Nankabirwa then thought Bahati’s response to the claims that were presented in writing before her committee.

“It came out, so we thought you could speak [about] it to clear, we can even sympathise with you. It is legitimate to do business and they even included who your partners are, maybe you were defrauded by your partners and they are saying that Hon Bahati’s companies disappeared from those claiming. Now you’re saying that even if you were, you wouldn’t want to be part of this process. Can we say that because indeed you’re saying so, you were and decided that let me not be part of this process. Maybe the way having appeared in the bilateral, maybe you found wrong how you managed to handle the issue so that you don’t appear,” she added.

However, Bahati maintained that he never transacted any business in South Sudan. Accusations against Bahati’s involvement in the compensation process date back to 2016 when a section of traders accused him of using his position to lobby for the compensation of certain companies and individuals.

Patrick Ntege Walusimbi, the chairperson Uganda Traders Association of South Sudan (UTASS) then told the Parliament’s Tourism and Trade Committee that Bahati was among those listed as individuals for compensation during the first verification exercise and they were concerned that he was going to use his position to receive compensation before other companies.

The process for compensation of affected companies has so far seen ten companies paid. They are Rubya Investments, Kibungo Entreprises, Aponye (U) Ltd, Afro Kai ltd, Swift Commodities Establishment Ltd, Sunrise Commodities, Sophie Omari, Apo General Agencies, Ropani International and KK Travelers.

Others whose compensation is still pending payment include; Roko Construction Company, Ake-jo General Enterprise, JB Traders, Odyek Ejang Company, Dott Services, Gunya Company Limited, Premier Company, MFK Company among others.

Meanwhile, the attorney general William Byaruhanga has assured the traders of payment. Byaruhanga appeared before the committee on Thursday together with lawyer John Bosco Suuza, the acting commissioner contracts and negotiations in the attorney general’s chambers. Byaruhanga told the committee how his insistence on a sovereign guarantee had caused an impasse during a meeting in South Sudan.

“Looking at the fluidity of regimes, the thinking was that if there’s a new government, somebody might say I don’t know, what you’re talking about, who are these? That is why my concentration was on getting that sovereign guarantee. So I told the governor and minister of Finance of South Sudan that for me the agreement was not enough and they said no, the agreement is enough and I said, no. And I can tell you that the meeting adjourned, the next day they went to tell President Salva Kiir who rang my president to say I was being a stumbling block in the signing. And when he [Museveni] called me I said it is the truth, I said; sir we can sign the agreement but I will not advise the central bank to pay unless we get a sovereign guarantee.” Byaruhanga said.

Asked by Nankabirwa whether the unpaid 23 companies that were also approved by parliament still stand a chance, Byaruhanga noted if the all money guaranteed by South Sudan was available in the treasury, there would be no reason for not paying the remaining companies. He added that the main concern of the traders is on who should be paid next. Byaruhanga said even if the money is not enough to pay everybody fully, the available funds can be split for every company to get a share.

Byaruhanga’s statement is a shift from Bahati who told the committee on Wednesday that the unpaid traders could only be paid after confirmation from the government of South Sudan and issuance of another sovereign guarantee.

Bahati also revealed that the government will next month send a delegation to South Sudan with a document of all claimants besides the 10 companies seeking compensation with a view of coming up with a solution.