The Rwandan government last month sealed the fate of one of the country’s top private multimillion dollar investments in Kigali, the Union Trade Centre, belonging to Rwandan billionaire Tribert Ayabatwa Rujugiro.
The government sent letters to over 80 tenants at the mall informing them it had seized the investment and that rent should be paid to the state. In South Africa recently, Correspondent Robert Mukombozi asked Rujugiro how he was taking the government’s action.
What’s your comment about Rwanda’s decision to take over UTC?
In an October 1 letter, the Rwandan Commission of Abandoned Properties informed UTC tenants that they must deposit their rent in the commission’s bank account, effective immediately. The UTC, which opened in 2006, is home to 81 privately-owned shops, restaurants and other retail establishments.
It is a terrible mistake which will not only harm my interest, but also the interest of more than 80 businesses that operate in UTC, over 400 workers that earn a living there, and Rwanda itself, a poor country that badly needs the taxes we pay.
Worst of all is the message the Rwandan government is sending to other investors, whether foreign or domestic businesspeople.
What was government’s reason for the closure of your business?
They have not presented me with any tangible reasons about how they reached a conclusion to take over my business. In fact, the Rwandan government is now panicking and they have gone through parliament to draft legislation to give them legal cover to take over the mall.
They are including language in the legislation that is specifically targeting property owners who may (1) have died and there is no legal heir; (2) be living in exile due to various reasons; [and] (3) be staying abroad due to various reasons.
The government previously has tried to allege that I abandoned UTC because I reside in South Africa and no longer reside in Rwanda. With no existing law to justify that claim legally, the Rwandan parliament is now rushing to create new laws so as to legitimise some individual’s actions and interests.
Categorising UTC under abandoned properties is the most bizarre thing I have seen and heard in a long time. UTC is an excellent corporate citizen of Rwanda operating in line and spirit of the Constitution and company laws of the land. It is dully registered with Rwanda Development Board and large taxpayer to Rwanda Revenue Authority. The fact that I live outside Rwanda is besides the point.
I cannot live in all countries in which I have investments at the same time. There is nothing in Rwanda’s company law that says an investor in Rwanda must live in Rwanda. The UTC is one of the country’s most successful private businesses. Its businesses support more than 400 employees and contribute thousands of dollars in tax revenue each year. The message here is that the government is not interested in private investment.
What do you plan to do with the rest of your investments in Rwanda?
I will not withdraw my other investment for the sake of the employees, their communities and, indeed my own hard work and sweat that went into creating these assets.
You had also announced plans to construct a Frw 15 billion (Shs 45bn) stadium in your home town of Nyanza. Should we hope you are going ahead with this project?
We suspended the Nyanza stadium project when the government of Rwanda illegally nullified my Rwandan citizenship, my native country. Where in the world did you ever hear a native losing citizenship of his motherland?
Do you have any plans of extending your business empire into Uganda?
Yes. Pan African Tobacco Group (PATG) is investing heavily in Uganda. In Uganda we recently invested millions of dollars particularly in tobacco processing and production in the north of the country, which will directly create 700 new jobs and support thousands more throughout East Africa. I am impressed by Uganda’s investment policies and support.
Source: The Observer