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“The development of SGR isn’t behind schedule at all as far as harmonization agreement is concerned,” Says Coordinator

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” The Standard Gauge Railway was adopted in 2014, by the East Africa Presidents who launched the multitrillion project meant to modernise the traditional railway transport system geared towards boosting economic growth by facilitating a faster movement of goods across borders. “

The SGR Coordinator, Canon Perez Wamburu while appearing before the Public Accounts Committee yesterday to respond to audit queries raised in the 2017/2018 audit report that raised concerns over the delays in implementation of the perceived regional railway, he affirmed that Uganda is on schedule for the construction despite compensating only 11% compensation of the project affected persons within three years.

Officials from Ministry of Works and Transport while appearing before the Public Accounts Committee

His remarks were in response to a call by some MPs like Theodore Ssekikuubo (Lwemiyaga County) who questioned why taxpayers have to continue funding the team in charge of SGR yet no single kilometer of the railway has been constructed, five years from the time it was launched in 2014.

Ssekikuubo said, “We are incurring nugatory expenditure on this white elephant. Is it about time we launched the standard gauge railway. After a decade of the launch, not even one kilometer has been put on ground. Kenya has already started on its side, ours was launched at a hotel in Munyonyo, it has remained there, dead and buried there unless the contrary is proved, are we as a country right to continue appropriating money to a non-starting project.”

In response, Wamburu said, “We agreed that Kenya and Uganda arrive at Malaba at the same time. The development of SGR isn’t behind schedule at all as far as harmonization agreement is concerned. Uganda SGR isn’t late at all.”

The Standard Gauge Railway was adopted in 2014, by the East Africa Presidents who launched the multitrillion project meant to modernise the traditional railway transport system geared towards boosting economic growth by facilitating a faster movement of goods across borders.

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya flagged off the maiden passenger train on the newly completed Mombasa-Nairobi SGR in March 2017 and although Uganda had promised to start construction in June 2015, but three years down the road, Government is yet to complete funding negotiations with Exim Bank China.

On Uganda’s side, project is to cost USD2.8Bn approximately, of this, Exim Bank will bring on board USD2.3Bn which represents 85%, while the remaining 15% will be footed by Ugandan tax payers.

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I will pursue Bank of Uganda to the end; if I die, my son will take over- Dr. Sudhir vows

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Dr Sudhir Ruparelia addresses a media conference soon after Commercial Court dismissed the BoU case. He said everyone who participated in the illegal closure, takeover and sale of Crane Bank would be made to pay
Ruparelia Group founder and Chairman Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia has said he is ready to legally pursue Bank of Uganda and make them pay for illegally taking over his bank, till the very end. This is the first time Dr Ruparelia is publicly commenting about Bank of Uganda’s planned appeal, following the dismissal of the central bank’s UGX397 billion case against the businessman over “being incompetently in court.” Commercial Court’s Hon Mr. Justice David K. Wangutusi, on Monday August 26th dismissed HCCS 493 of 2017, saying BoU “did not have jurisdiction to file HCCS No. 493 of 2017” and that the orders sought against Meera are “barred in law, rendering” BoU with no “cause of Action” against Meera. BoU in an August 27th statement by the Director of Communciations, Charity Mugumywa, said BoU would appeal “as per Notice of Appeal Application 320 of 2019 filed in the High Court today.” “Me I am ready, today, tomorrow or even when I am dead my son will take over,” said Sudhir in a media interview today, during the official opening of Electrical Plaza, his latest $10 million commercial building in downtown Kampala. “Let me tell you, the law is the law, nobody can reinvent law. You see they (BoU) created this law (FIA 2004) to protect themselves. They are saying no body can sue them. So we used the same law to defeat them,” he said adding: “They have taken seven banks and nobody could do anything to them because they had the law to protect them. So we used the same law they used to protect them to defeat them.” In a veiled comment about the appeal he said that: “If anybody has senses in bank of Uganda, they have such dumb lawyers there. If the lawyers knew the law they are supposed to enforce, this could have not happened. So I think it’s good for us that there are dumb lawyers in Bank of Uganda legal department.” He also alluded to the fact that the lawyers could be playing so as to continue profiting from legal fees as the appeal drugs on, finally costing the tax payers when the case is lost. Analysts have said BoU’s appeal is equivalent to “throwing good money after bad money” because Justice Wangutusi’s ruling was based on a plain and clear interpretation of the Financial Institutions Act. Giving his reasons on why he thought BoU did not have a locus standi, Wangutusi, based his ruling on The Financial Institutions Act which clearly lays out the role of a receiver. “In my view if it (FIA 2004) had wanted the Receiver who had only 12 months on stage to sue, it would have expressly provided for it. “The end result is that once Crane Bank was put under Statutory Management, its Board of Directors was suspended. If there was to be any suit, it would be brought by the Central Bank as the Statutory manager under section 89(2)(e) or by the Liquidator with approval of the Central Bank under section 100(1)(a) of the Financial Institutions Act. These two were empowered to initiate and defend court action by the Financial Institution Act which interestingly left out the Receiver. The Legislature did not want any court action against the Receiver…… It follows that the Respondent under Receivership lacked locus standi. Without locus standi its attempt at filing a suit was null ab initio (to be treated as invalid from the outset).”    “Everyone who stole my bank, is going to pay,” Sudhir vows Sudhir has previously said that everyone who participated in illegally taking over Crane Bank, would have to pay. “Everyone who has played a part in the fraudulent activities is going to pay for it – we are not going easy.  That includes dfcu that is fraudulently occupying Meera Properties; they are the biggest fraudsters in this country. They need to understand that they are illegally occupying our branches and they fraudulently transferred them into their names without the consent of Meera Investments” he told media soon after the ruling. Addressing a media conference outside the Commercial Court, a tough-talking Sudhir said:  “Everyone is going to pay a price for this,” he said, adding: “We are now going to put up a counter claim. You know COSASE found out a lot of things of what these people did. With guidance from my lawyers, we will put a counter claim. They did not value our assets, they did not account for the cash in the bank; all the money was just stolen. This is terrible,” Sudhir said. “This is a big win over the mafias and the whole conspiracy that’s been holding the country at ransom in the central bank. I think this is going to be a lesson to them. They have taken over 7 banks and they cannot account for any of them. How do you fail to account to someone? I am a shareholder, I lost a lot of money; I put 25 years of my time and you steal my bank? –you steal all my assets, all my paid-up capital, and all my assets just stolen. And you claim that you put this money in Crane Bank and you can’t even account for it, you can’t even account for Shs290 Billion – where is it all gone?” quizzed Sudhir. Sudhir also said this was a “tremendous achievement” and “historical.

“Nobody has been in the past been able to win Central Bank – they have stolen 7 different banks and not accounted to any shareholder and this is the unfortunate part of the whole scenario. You take somebody’s assets, you steal it, you profit from it and you don’t account for it; this is so ridiculous!  Then, they sued for $100 Million; the money they stole, they are suing me for it. How?” he wondered.                

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Pictorial: How Meera Investments is changing Kampala’s skyline

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Today, Meera Investments, the property development arm of the Ruparelia Group officially inaugurates their Electrical Plaza, the latest addition to their mixed use building portfolio in the city centre.  

Kampala Boulevard is a mixed use building on Kampala Road with shops and fully furnished suites- the Kampala Boulevard Suites. The suites offer accommodation with seating area. The air-conditioned units have a fully equipped kitchenette with dining area and an oven and a fitness centre.

Since 1994, Meera has been part of a number of innovative property solutions in mainly, the commercial and residential space and today owns sectors and to date owns over 300 properties in Kampala and other major towns like Mukono, Jinja, Mbale and Mbarara.    

With 287 shops, 66 fully furnished apartments, Hardware City building is strategically located in the central business district. With access to three main roads and parking for up to 150 cars, it is one of the best arcades in town.

The company, according to its Chairman and founder, Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia, is the largest developer of commercial and residential properties and also owns the largest number of ongoing real estate projects. It is also the largest private owner of commercial land in Kampala.

Bukoto Heights consists of 97 tastefully furnished modern apartments, premium designed to offer guests a mix of modern contemporary surroundings and a relaxing, laid back environment. Built in the northern suburb of Bukoto the facility offers both short stay and long-term guests all the comfort and amenities of a full service hotel. The range of accommodation facilities suits all guests, whether business traveller that require a standard apartment, leisure travellers or guests that require a luxuriously spacious apartment or have even taken the kids along for the ride and require family accommodation.  

Meera Investments Limited was in 2017/18 rated as a top rental income taxpayer by Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) while Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia, the Chairman/Managing Director of Meera Investments, was rated the second biggest individual rental income taxpayer.

Kingdom Kampala Mall, consists of 22,000m2 of Grade A retail and office space. Built to international standards. Out of the 40,000m2 built up area, 22,000m2 is lettable, consisting of 18,000m2 of office space (10 floors), 4,000m2 of retail as well as parking for up to 450 cars. The building has been fitted with a modern sprinkler fire suppression system consisting of a 200,000 litre water tank and 2 fire pumps with a back-up generator.  There is a separate holding water tank with a capacity of 150,000 litres.
The building is also equipped with 6 lifts- four with a capacity of 13 passengers and two with a capacity of 20 passengers. It also has three 500kva backup generators with a 15,000 diesel tank and has been fitted with 400 CCTVs for security. The building can run for 4-5 days off-grid.

Over the last 3-4 years, the company has been on a construction spree, raising several properties across Kampala, which have both redefined city architecture and changed both Kampala’s skyline, as well as the look and feel of the Kampala City.  

The Cube is a well- planned shopping arcade with five levels of shops, offices & restaurant space and apartments. Located at the busy Kisementi are in lower Kololo, it’s ideal for small and big brands that want to grow their dream business much faster in an ideal setting. 

Today, we revisit and review some of those projects, especially those developed over the last 3-4 years

Featuring one, two and three bedroom apartments, as well as penthouse suites. All apartments have access to complimentary WiFi, ample parking slots within the premises for residents and their guests. Guests at Speke Apartments – Kitante have complimentary access to use the swimming pool and gym at Speke Apartments – Wampewo and Kabira Country Club both of which are within driving distance.
Located on Plot 11 Market Street at the confluence of Market Street and Kiyembe Lane, the $10 million Electrical Plaza is made up of 220 shops, 56 apartments and 2 floors of parking.

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With UGX1.5 tn in accumulated losses, UGX258.3bn in debts amidst declining sales, how long can Africell hold its ground?

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One step front, two steps behind: Can Africell survive an onslaught from MTN and Airtel, amidst declining sales, heavy losses and deep indebtedness?

Over the last month, the market was awash with talk that Eaton Towers and ATC Uganda, the two biggest operators of cell towers in Uganda, had switched off telecom operator, Africell Uganda over unpaid bills. That it took the intervention of the regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to have them restored temporarily.

We reached out to UCC’s Executive Director, Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi who referred us to Mr. Ibrahim Bbossa the Head Public and International Relations at UCC.

Bbossa, however declined to comment saying that the matter beforehand was sensitive.

Mark Turyamureba, the ATC Uganda, Head of Legal/Regulatory Affairs in a phone call to this reporter said his company, had not switched Africell off, to the best of his knowledge.

Jim Burns, the Eaton Towers, Deputy Managing Director, did not respond to our email, calls and messages to his phone for over 3 weeks. 

When we asked Africell’s Spokesperson, Edgar Karamagi about this turn of events, he said the company was aware of the “existence of business obligations with service providers but all processes are moving on smoothly.”

“I am not aware of any switching off as per your claim,” he said, adding: “All our engagements with tower companies and other service providers, are premised on well stipulated agreements which touch on all issues including but not limited to payments. As a company we value our service providers and extended stakeholder community to ensure we are act in accordance to our agreed roles. In brief, we honor our obligations to all our stakeholders without exception. This has been the trend and it is not about to stop.”


COOPERATING TO COMPETE: Africell CEO Ziad Daoud (in t-shirt), shakes hands with MTN Uganda CEO, Wim Vanhelleputte on August 6th, 2019 at the joint announcement that Africell would begin distributing its airtime through MTN’s Mobile Money, over and above its shops. Africell, it appears is getting innovative so as to stay afloat at minimal costs.

Mr. Karamagi went on to say, without divulging how much these obligations were, that: “To allay your fears, the telecom business is a high capex investment business, therefore such amounts can’t run us out of town,” he said.

However, when we put it to him that according to audited financials to which CEO East Africa had gained exclusive access, Africell was heavily indebted and by end of 2018, its current liabilities reached the tune of UGX258.3 billion- more than twice their total turnover in 2018, wondering if indeed Africell was in position to pay these debts, Karamagi responded as thus:

“No comment on the figures although I do question your source. We take exception to remind you of your obligation to publish with responsibility,” he said.

One step front, two steps back

Africell Holdings, mid-2014 acquired then Orange Uganda at an undisclosed sum, amidst analyst questions on what bag of tricks Africell had up its sleeve, given that Orange, part of a bigger and more experience Orange Group had failed to meaningfully penetrate the Airtel and MTN duopoly.  

At the time Orange quit, they were faced with UGX771.8 billion in accumulated losses and with almost no significant market share gains to show for it.

It appears, the timing of Africell’s entry was just wrong- at the time of Africell’s entry, Airtel, part of the Bharti-Airtel, the giant out-of-India operator, had just successfully pulled off a merger and acquisition of Warid Telecom creating a much stronger No.2 market player.

As a result of the merger, Airtel would nearly double its revenue from UGX367.7 billion in 2012, to UGX505 billion in 2013 and UGX722 billion in 2014. This put Airtel, well within a fighting chance, against market-leader MTN which as at end of 2014 had a gross turnover of UGX1.27 trillion.

A much stronger Airtel, meant that Africell, had two market giants to fight against.

ALSO READ: Airtel posts UGX338bn in 2018 profit; makes more profit than MTN for 3 years in a row https://www.ceo.co.ug/exclusive-airtel-posts-ugx338-bn-in-2018-profit-makes-more-profit-than-mtn-for-3-years-in-a-row/

As at end of 2014, Africell’s total turnover was a meagre UGX121.3 billion- 10 times less than MTN’s revenue market share and about 5 times that of Airtel. This was a David with one stone, versus not just one Goliath, but two Goliaths. That left the question on everybody’s head: How exactly did Africell plan to change the game? What move were they going to pull in that market that MTN and Airtel could not replicate?

2015 was the year that Africell too their first hard lesson in the market. Amidst tough talking and supported by heavy market spending- Africell only managed to grow their turnover by 6.1% from UGX121.3 billion to UGX129billion. But due to the big spending, losses increased by UGX94.4 billion that year, from UGX171.5 billion in 2014 to UGX266 billion- a one-step front, two steps back scenario.

UGX121 billion in turnover would infact be the furthest they ever reached in turnover- what followed would three years of consecutive revenue decline. In 2016, revenue declined to UGX126.6 billion, then to UGX113.6bn in 2017, settling at UGX108.8 billion- altogether a reduction of 16%.  

Put another way, this was UGX12.5 billion less than the revenue that they inherited from Orange Uganda. As if this was not bad enough, this lackluster performance came in with another cost- more accumulated losses; UGX171.5bn in 2014, UGX266 billion in 2015, UGX172 billion in 2016, UGX66.5 billion in 2017 and UGX72.2 billion in 2018.

Altogether, since Africell entered the Ugandan market, they have amassed UGX748.2 billion in accumulated losses- perhaps a testimony to market analyst fears that by trying to put up a fight against 2 market giants, huge competitors, each of whose turnover is more than 10 times Africell’s- MTN in 2018 turned over UGX1.55 trillion and netted UGX219.5 billion while Airtel turned over UGX1.21 trillion and netted UGX338 billion, Africell would only succeed in hurting itself.

We asked Edgar Karamagi and new CEO, Ziad Daoud if Africell had any fighting chance against Airtel and MTN who are backed by bigger group entities that are themselves bigger than Africell Holdings – Africell’s mother group, but Africell instead chose to sidestep the question by expressing reservations on the authenticity of our figures.

How much further can Africell go?

To understand the futility of Africell’s fight, you need to understand that while Africell’s turnover between 2015 and 2018 reduced by 16%, that of MTN, the market leader increased by 16% from UGX1.33 trillion to UGX1.55 trillion.

That of Airtel leaped by 43% from UGX846.2 billion to UGX1.21 trillion.  

But Africell, won’t give up as yet. In July 2019, it was reported by Reuters that Africell Holdings had in May 2019 secured a $100 million (UGX365.4 billion) credit line from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. government’s private investment fund.

Reuters quoted Ziad Dalloul, Africell’s founder, CEO and Group Chairman saying that the money would be used to fund infrastructure investments for their operations in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia and Sierra Leone.

He also said it would help the firm expand fintech services, such as mobile payments, micro-insurance and micro-finance. 

But given the size of the problem at hand, it appears, that even if the entire $100 million was to be spent on Uganda alone, it may be just enough to fix the debts with a few billions left to patch, a minute portion of the UGX1.52 trillion in accumulated losses.

Eaton may or may not have switched them off, but sooner than later debts, losses and a tough market will.

One step front, two steps behind: Can Africell survive an onslaught from MTN and Airtel, amidst declining sales, heavy losses and deep indebtedness? 

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