Roasting and toasting to business persons of 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our preparations for the annual end-of-year business party.

We are keeping it light and soft this year as a true reflection of the poor health of the economy. Things have been so rough in the economy we shall, in respect of our fallen comrades - Crane bank Limited and Ferdsult Engineering Services Limited ahem! - meet up at the public Constitution Square and suck in whatever little fresh air is left of those once beautiful greens.

Snacks and light drinks will be served from the new Pearl of Africa hotel. We decided to call up the hotel’s chief executive officer, Mohammed Hamid, to do the catering, hoping that his court run-ins with suspended state minister for Labour, Herbert Kabafunzaki, over a purported solicitation of a Shs 5 million bribe to sweep a labour dispute case under the carpet, had slowed down. Hamid obliged.

We have a rich invitation list this year. We have decided to place Sudhir Ruparelia, the chairman of the Ruparelia Group, in the middle row. We were not sure whether to place him at the front row with the heroes or at the back with the villains.

A court case against Bank of Uganda, linked to the collapse of Crane bank, which Sudhir previously owned, has left many of us puzzled over whether the decision to sell off the bank was justified.

What looked like a straightforward case, where Bank of Uganda accused Sudhir of defrauding his own bank, has shifted momentum with Sudhir scoring a court victory over the regulator’s appointment of lawyers that were once on his payroll.

Governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile’s seat has been reserved at the front row, for now. That is down to the simple reason that Uganda’s banking system was hardly shaken after Bank of Uganda sold Crane bank to dfcu bank in January.

We don’t mind Juma Kisaame, the managing director of dfcu bank, sitting next to the governor; those two struck the deal of the year when dfcu acquired Crane bank. When we called Kisaame to invite him to our party, he sounded upbeat.

And why wouldn’t he be? Dfcu Limited has had an impressive year. Its half-year profit before tax for 2017 jumped by a whopping 398 per cent to Shs 151bn due to the gain realised from the acquisition of Crane bank’s assets.

George Inholo, the managing director of Uganda Clays Limited, will sit just behind Kisaame. Perhaps no company has made a bigger turnaround this year than Uganda Clays.

For a long time, Uganda Clays Limited was the lame duck of the Uganda Securities Exchange, weighed down by a huge pile of debt and fractured by management changes and hostile minority shareholders.

Uganda Clays’ share price at the securities exchange more than doubled in the last quarter of 2017. Its profit before tax grew to Shs 2.1bn, representing a growth of 70 per cent.

This turnaround is partly attributed to NSSF’s conversion of its debt into equity, which ultimately made it a majority shareholder.

While we are still with the construction sector, we have called up Daniel Pettersson, the former chief executive officer of Hima Cement Limited, whose business acumen, seen from the improvements he made at Hima, was at one time unrivalled. We thought Pettersson could do with a drink seeing how he was unceremoniously shown the door at the cement firm.

Another figure that has exited a firm is Sam Kutesa, and we thought he could come to our party too. The minister of Foreign Affairs sold off his stake in Entebbe Handling Services to a company from Kuwait.

Some people have whispered to me that getting the transaction completed was not easy as banks tend to raise a red flag on politically-sensitive figures.

Kutesa might as well share the same table with Jimmy Mugerwa, the country manager at Tullow Oil Uganda. The oil company has struggled to get government approval for the farmdown of about 22 per cent of its stake to Total E&P and Cnooc with disagreement over how much tax that transaction should fetch, and how the oil fields should be operated.  

Our invitation list could not be more complete without Alain Goetz, the chief executive officer of African Gold Refinery. The company officially launched in February this year, seeking to become the biggest company in the Great Lakes region to refine gold to 99.99 purity.

The company is now in the process of making finished products such as gold bars and jewellery. We could all do with some jewellery this festive season, seeing few of us benefited from the ‘oil handshake’ this year.  

Twitter: @jeff_mbanga

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