In his new book, Dr Ezra Sabiti Suruma, has criticised both President Museveni and his younger brother Salim Saleh for their role in the flawed sale of Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB).
Now a presidential aisor on Finance, Suruma is a former minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. In Aancing The Ugandan Economy: A Personal Account, Suruma claims that Museveni, through Gen Saleh, presided over the controversial divestiture of UCB.
Suruma’s book, launched on Tuesday at Makerere University, attempts to show why there was an economic slump in the first 25 years of independence and considerable economic growth in the second half since independence. It later delves into the sale of UCB. Saleh, who was present at the launch, first praised the book as ‘not that condemnative’ narrative like others he had read.
But Gen Saleh took exception to the part that slays him.
“The only thing I have [against the book] is this UCB history because as you all know, I thought I was fighting a proper war but then when I see on page 73, I even marked it, ‘then Saleh, who is the president’s brother… ‘. I think doctor [Suruma] you have to do some correction on that,” Gen Saleh complained, adding, “… but he [Dr Suruma] is a very difficult person to work with by the way. Some of [his] principles are very [strict] really but you [Suruma] have to bend some of the rules in order to achieve… ”
In the book’s tenth chapter, Dr Suruma details the troubles behind the divestiture of UCB. He attacks the president for listening to the World Bank ideology on liberalisation, neglecting his (Suruma’s) aice and Parliament and involving his brother.
“The conflict over privatisation had an ideological basis. The president, following the aice of the World Bank, favoured it as part of the strategy to liberalise the economy… Parliament passed a private member’s bill in May 2007 to keep UCB in state hands. Nevertheless, the government was able to go ahead,” he said.
“It chose Westmont Land (Asia), a Malaysian company that made the highest bid, but also had a secret agreement to front for a Ugandan bank in which the president’s brother [Gen Saleh] was a major stakeholder… ” the excerpt on page 73 partly reads.
Saleh said his involvement in the sale of UCB was meant to Ugandanise the bank.
“I was in Gulu fighting [LRA rebel leader Joseph] Kony then I heard the argument of people who were g and anti-privatisation of the bank. And for me I used all my skills and power for the Ugandanisation of UCB. I never stepped in that bank at all. I made a few manoeuvres here and there… we did what we call in economics a reverse turnover- it’s a new word… when those who bought appear to have bought when we are the ones who bought and that was my plan.”
Renowned economist, Prof Augustus Nuwagaba then weighed in.
“If you know of any country which has transformed without an indigenous bank, put up your hand there is none… so, we are going to agree with Gen Saleh that he was a nationalist and he wanted to put UCB in the hands of Ugandans,” he said.
It remains to be seen if Dr Suruma will ‘do some correction’ but as Budadiri West legislator Nathan Nandala Mafabi put it, “It takes wisdom and courage… to come up with such a book, especially if you are a member of a ruling party and an economic aisor to the president.”
At the time of its sale to the South African Standard Bank of Investment Corporation (Stanbic) in 2006 at $19.5m, UCB was a leading commercial banking, controlling over 80 per cent of the market. Also, a report from a select parliamentary committee on privatisation established at the end of the 1990s would later accuse the state minister for Privatisation, Matthew Rukikaire, of mishandling the government’s divestiture of UCB.
The report also alleged that Gen Saleh, the president’s brother, had engineered the improper takeover of 49 per cent of UCB shares through a firm in which he owned majority shares, Greenland Investments.
Source : The Observer