UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | La’Bella Bar and Restaurant, one of the oldest bars in Kampala, has been closed following a dispute over its ownership.
The property on Plot No 1, Dewinton Road, formerly owned by Asians, was placed under the control of the Asian Property Custodian Board (DAPCB) in the 1960s.
The bar’s proprietors, Sara Khatete and Sophie Nakajubi, including the widow of the late Kabaka Freddie Walugembe Muteesa, allege that they were violently evicted from the premises in March by Kanyamas and officials from Kassam Properties Consultants Limited, who are associated with Kampala-based lawyer Mumtaz Kassam and that La’Bella Bar and Restaurant was cordoned off without a court order even though there is a pending court case.
“We were simply invaded by a group of people claiming to be owners of the property. They harassed whoever they found on the property. They beat up some of the workers, unplugged electrical appliances and locked us outside, asking for rent,” Ms Khatete said.
In response, Kassam Properties has argued that their actions are legal and appropriate under the Landlord Tenants Act, 2022.
The dispute over La’Bella’s ownership began in the 1960s when President Amin declared “an economic war” and expelled Asians from Uganda.
Hundreds of properties and businesses formerly owned by Asians were placed under the control of the DAPCB, including the property on Dewinton Road.
However, La’Bella’s proprietors claim that Kassam Properties’ officials never returned to Uganda as required by Section 9 of the Expropriated Properties Act (EPA) and that the repossession of the property was fraudulent.
An April 2021 report of the 10th Parliament’s investigation into the operations of the custodian board revealed that repossession certificates for 637 properties were issued even when the owners never returned.
The sub-committee of the Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) recommended that repossession certificates issued to persons who did not return to Uganda should be revoked.
Attorney General’s Opinion
In March, Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka sent a legal opinion to President Museveni, arguing that the recommendations of the COSASE report are “not legally tenable” and would expose the government to unnecessary litigation.
He wrote: “The recommendation of the Cosase sub-committee for Departed Asians Property Custodian Board to initiate the process for cancellation of repossession certificates acquired and any substitute titles is not capable of implementation in light of the existing case law.”
He concluded that under no circumstances could a minister revoke a repossession certificate.
“Even if there was an error on the part of the government, the minister cannot cancel a certificate of repossession,” he revealed.
“If they can re-enter our property even when the matter is pending in court—which the Attorney General says is the only one with the power to revoke certificates that were fraudulently obtained—then we have nowhere to go,” Ms Khatete noted.
Kassam Properties’ Claims
Kassam Properties’ officials claim that their actions are legal and appropriate under the Landlord Tenants Act, of 2022.
They argue that the act allows a landlord to give a tenant who does not pay rent a 30-day notice before eviction.
“What does the Landlord Tenants Act say?” Mr Muhwezi asked rhetorically, adding, “That if a tenant does not pay, you give a 30-day notice. We went and served a notice. Thirty days elapsed. We went to the police and applied for re-entry. We did not require a court order to re-enter.”
Although there is a pending court case between La’Bella’s proprietors and Kassam Properties, Mr Muhwezi believes some peculiarities cannot be overlooked.
He argued that Kassam Properties applied for distress, which is the matter La’Bella’s proprietors say is still before the court.
“Who went to court? We were the ones who went there. We applied for distress. That is the matter which they are saying is still before court,” Mr Muhwezi said.
Meanwhile, La’Bella’s proprietors have accused Kassam Properties’ officials of violently evicting them from the premises and cordoning off the property without a court order.
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