By Chimp Investigations Unit
A battle is raging between businessmen Rajiv Ruparelia, the son of Sudhir Ruparelia and Sylvia Ntambi, the Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission after the latter refused to commit Shs 2bn of taxpayers’ money in rent for office space at Kingdom Kampala – a new building structure owned by the Ruparelias.
Ntambi has since been dragged to State House’s Anti-corruption Unit by a whistleblower accusing her of corruption and abuse of office among others but officials at the Commission say her woes could have been sparked off by her refusal to give a green light to the multi-billion shilling Kingdom Kampala rent deal.
It all started in 2019 with Equal Opportunities Commission, a government body established to fight discrimination and enforce compliance with legislation on equal opportunities, issuing notices seeking service providers for office space.
Kingdom Kampala emerged the best evaluated bidder in the bidding process.
However, on January 29, 2020, the Commission wrote to Kingdom Kampala saying the procurement process was cancelled.
This sparked off a protest from the Ruparelias in multiple letters dated February 11, 2020 and February 10, 2020.
On March 2, 2020, the Ruparelias received a letter from the Commission, saying “investigations were made into the complaint” and that it did not find any “justification to make corrective measures as required by law.”
The Ruparelias, according to their lawyer Nelson Walusimbi, “being aggrieved by the decision of the accounting officer consequently made a complaint to the PPDA which found in its favour on the 4th day of June 2020.”
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the budget for the Commission was reduced substantially. Only Shs 500m was allocated for rent.
On June 12, 2020, the Commission came under pressure from Kingdom Kampala’s lawyer Walusimbi.
“Our client invites you (Commission) to share with it the relevant tenancy contract (documents) for its consideration and/or execution so that this matter may be realized without exposing the entity to further cost,” charged Walusimbi in a letter to the Commission.
Ministry of Finance speaks out
According to investigations conducted by ChimpReports, on June 26, 2020, the Equal Opportunities Commission wrote to the Ministry of Finance seeking guidance on whether to proceed and sign the tenancy agreement with Kingdom Kampala without the required Shs 2bn.
In response, on July 16, 2020, Patrick Ocailap said the Ministry was unable to raise the funds for the Commission’s rent.
“Whereas we note the guidance by Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority for Equal Opportunities Commission to proceed with the procurement based on the commitment by this Ministry to provide Shs 2bn for rent, there are no funds in the budget for financial year 2020/21 due to low revenue performance caused by the effects of COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ocailap, signing on behalf of Permanent Secretary, Keith Muhakanizi.
“The purpose of this letter, therefore, is to inform you that due to revenue constraints arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will not be possible to provide Shs 2bn as had earlier been committed,” Ocailap emphasised.
“Therefore, you should defer procurement of new office premises until when the financial situation improves,” he added,
Ocailap copied this letter to the Executive Director, Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority.
Rajiv Ruparelia ‘messages’
ChimpReports has learned that despite Ocailap saying there isn’t money for the Commission to rent office space, Rajiv Ruparelia sent a text message and sought meetings with the Commission’s Chairperson, Sylvia Ntambi.
In one of the letters dated September 14, 2020, Rajiv wrote to the Commission, promising to “accommodate you as per your office space requirement at Kingdom Kampala premises under special consideration at rent free for the current financial year which ends on 30th June, 2021 with immediate effect upon signing of the tenancy agreement for three years effective from 1st July, 2020 to 30th June 2024..”
Rajiv, in his letter which ChimpReports has seen, said his offer would be under the “the understanding that from the next financial year which starts from 1st July 2021, you (Equal Opportunities Commission) shall be required to make monthly payments of Shs 208m for the area size measuring approximately 2,300 square meters…”
Ntambi stuck to her guns.
On September 17, Rajiv Ruparelia reportedly sent a message to Ntambi: “Hi Madame Sylvia. Greetings. My name is Rajiv Ruparelia from kingdom Kampala. Sorry to call in the evening. Please may you give me a call when you get a chance. Regards.”
Ntambi didn’t respond to Rajiv’s message sent via his known cellphone number, 0772777773.
Efforts to reach Rajiv for comment on Thursday did not bear fruit as he didn’t respond to our message.
This was not the first time Kingdom Kampala’s suspected agents were sending messages to Ntambi.
On February 11, a one Prabhat sent a message to Ntambi requesting to “talk to you.”
Prabhat added: “It’s request for a one on one discussion to share some thoughts about your recent bid for office space. I will be glad to meet you. Thanks and regards.”
During this period, Ntambi and other senior officers have had to battle accusation after accusation before various anti-corruption agencies.
Some officials who talked to us said they had a feeling that refusing to grant a multi-billion shilling deal to the Ruparelias was at the heart of Ntambi’s problems.
“We were also looking at government’s plans to construct a one-stop Government Office Campus (GOC) at Bwebajja. Paying Shs 2bn for rent for three years would see us lose money in case we are relocated to Bwebajja,” said a source.
National Social Security Fund (NSSF) recently allocated funds to be used for the acquisition of the consultancy services for design and construction supervision of the Campus at Bwebajja.
The Fund intends to construct a GOC on at least 48.5 acres of land at Bwebajja, off the Kampala-Entebbe Highway and will involve regazetting the immediate neighborhoods of Bwebajja into a special planning area, redevelopment and expansion of the existing structures of J & M Hotel and Apartments. The campus will comprise a gross developed area of 200,000 square meters and a net lettable area of 150,000 square metres.
A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter, added: “Even if Rajiv Ruparelia promises heaven on earth, as long as the Ministry of Finance does not commit funds, the Commission can’t sign any contract with their Kingdom Kampala.”
Kingdom Kampala sits on a 14.5 acre piece of land that was previously the home of both Shimoni Core Primary Teachers College and Shimoni Demonstration School.
The unfolding developments at the Equal Opportunities Commission underscore the growing need to fully digitize procurement of government services.
President Museveni in December 2019 said all public procurement must be done through digital platforms to encourage transparency and intensify the fight against graft.
He said that personal interactions during procurement have highly facilitated the infiltration of graft into public procurement.
“Our Lord’s prayer says thou shall not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil, so all these people should stop meeting those who are pushing tenders. We are going to make it an offense,” said president Museveni.