MAY 26, 2010: There is No "Fight Over U.S Mission"

There is No "Fight Over U.S Mission"
SOURCE: The Observer (Kampala)
By Prof. Perezi K. Kamunanwire

I wish to emphatically state that there is no fight over the Uganda Mission in Washington, DC, as has been recently misrepresented by the media in Uganda.

What is true however is that the disposal and acquisition of a new Chancery is being done in accordance with the guidelines stipulated by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) under section 97 of the PPDA Act No. 1 of 2003.

The media reports however, state that the sale is indeed justifiable because the Embassy is located in an insecure neighbourhood and is out of the diplomatic security ring which is detached from all other embassies that are clustered along Washington DC's Embassy Row.

In addition to the extremity of the current location and the insecurity in the area, the age and safety of the properties is another justification for relocation.

In 2007, the office was engulfed by a strong stench which, on investigation, revealed that the hazardous remnants of an old oil tank buried on the property grounds were seeping into the buildings at 5911 16th St.

It cost the embassy an estimated $11,000 to have the underground tank removed and disposed. Furthermore, it is very likely that the other Embassy building may also have the same problem.

It is true that members of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee visited the mission in 2009 at which time I expressed the need to relocate, based on the above reasons.

While the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee objected to the sale, preferring to retain the buildings to house Foreign Service Officers and their families, he together with his fellow MPs, found it reasonable to acquire new premises.

In addition, in May 2009, we received an inter-ministerial team comprising of officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Works and Transport and the Chief Government Valuer, who among other things looked at the state of the Chancery buildings and the possibility of acquiring a new Chancery.

The team concluded in their report that the idea of acquiring a new Chancery is welcome provided suitable and affordable premises are found.

In this regard and in order to avoid incurring high advertising costs and other associated fees, the Embassy requested an experienced and certified Real Estate professional with a good understanding of the local market to source for suitable properties on the market and accordingly submit them to the Embassy.

Six comparable properties were identified, some of which were visited by Embassy officials. I have brought this information of other available properties to the attention of the ministry headquarters and requested guidance and a way forward, especially regarding the property at 2025 Massachusetts Avenue which seemed closer to meeting our criteria of an ideal location.

This property is located at the center of Embassy Row close to the famous DuPont Circle in the heart of Washington, DC. It is a landmark building with an antique stone finishing. It covers up to 11,873 sq feet, which is very large for a property in this strategic location.

In future, and given its size, government could even consider renting out part of it to generate revenue for the country. Selling off the current old Chancery buildings to buy this new property is like selling off one's dilapidated Volkswagen to buy a sturdy, robust Hummer.

Of equal importance is the fact that the current real estate market in the US is a Buyers' Market due to the stable and yet favourable pricing of properties, especially in the currently depressed commercial Real Estate market.

It's therefore, a great opportunity to take advantage of this rare market situation to acquire a new Chancery for the country in such a convenient location.

In future, it would be more reasonable if Uganda's reporters consulted the concerned government officials regarding specific facts before misrepresenting issues relating to ongoing government processes.

The author is Uganda's Ambassador to the United States of America