Robert Kisena, the Executive Chairman of Simon Group

At a time when the Dar es Salaam Transport Services Company was on the brink of collapse with a financial and management crisis, one man emerged suddenly a leading contender as city investors scrambled to buy properties of the dying firm in a Tsh 1.2bn deal.

The young man, Robert Kisena, the Executive Chairman of Simon Group, who is currently in a battle for the control of  assets of the company known as “Usafiri Dar es Salaam” (UDA), which was valued at Sh12 billion in 2008, is finally revealing how he landed the deal.

To his allies he has a strong case against UDA but to his critics he is just bluffing, trying to conceal the mess that has clouded the scandal-haunted deal.

Having made headlines for months now, finally Kisena, a 40-year-old multimillionaire who made his fortune in the cotton sector, having started as an agent or middleman for an international firm, this week told the Guardian on Sunday the details of his controversial deal with UDA.

But in his story he also narrates how he was  apparently misdirected  by the Board Chairman of UDA, Iddi Simba, a former cabinet minister and well known business leader who once championed the cause of indigenization, before it backfired against him.

Though Simba has repeatedly denied the facts as presented by UDA’s new investor, insisting that the over Sh300 million paid into his personal bank account was consultancy fees. He asserts that the multimillion shillings payments were intended as consultancy services rendered by himself to Simon Group, to facilitate its bid to acquire properties and assets of the transport services firm.

However so far no concrete proofs has been issued by Simba to help verify his side of the story, while his accuser this week insisted that he has written evidence directing him to pay what he understood to be   ‘commitment fees’ amounting to Sh400 million.

He said that UDA board members told him that having been duped by various investors, they were now requiring that in order to prove his seriousness in acquiring majority shares in the troubled transport firm, he should deposit Sh400 million in commitment fees.

Kisena said that after the deal obtained approval, the amount paid as commitment would have been deducted from the total cost of buying majority shares.

“After consultation with my lawyers, we agreed to pay the money as directed, but we were again stunned by new directives that wanted us to pay the commitment fees in Simba’s account instead of UDA,” he stated.

Why was he told to pay Tsh400 million into0 Simba’s account? According to Kisena, the UDA board led by Simba made it clear that the company’s account was in the red from bank overdrafts, and therefore any payments through those accounts would just be absorbed by the bank.

“I again consulted my lawyers…they told me that as long as there was a written instruction from the Board, there’s no problem.” He says, adding that it didn’t ring into his mind that one day the commitments fees would become consultancy fees.

Today the deal has gone sour, attracting court battles as well as political battles, but Kisena is still optimistic that he acquired the shares legally through a clean process and will soon be the majority shareholder.

But why didn’t he sue Simba if there was no genuine transaction between the two? “When I discovered that he (Simba) had swindled the money, I instructed my lawyers to ask him in writing to repay back the money, but he didn’t comply for several months.”

“If it was really commitment fees he would have written to us stating it very clearly as well as providing evidence of any consultancy service agreements signed between Simon Group and himself,” he further asserts.

On September 2, 2009 the then UDA General Manager Victor Millanzi wrote to Simon Group directing it to pay Sh400 million into personal bank account of UDA chairman Idd Simba.

The letter leads:  “refer your conversation with the chairman of board of directors of UDA in regard to your intention to purchase government shares and the unallotted shares.”

It added: “I request you to act as agreed by paying Tsh 400 million as commitment of your intention on this matter. These funds will be part of the payment for the shares and will be taken into account during the second phase payment as stipulated in the share description agreement.”

“….As we explained to you our bank accounts are facing overdraft therefore deposit the money in the account number 0210001002 belongs to board chairman Idd Simba which is at Bank M. Sea View Branch in Dar es Salaam. This money would be transferred to UDA account when the matter of overdraft is over,” the letter concluded.

However despite his tale of the controversial deal, his mission to acquire majority share in the cash-strapped company is still far from reached as a fresh bid to re-evaluate the company’s assets is launched.

Following the situation, the fate of UDA and its associated sale of part of shares stands to face delays as the government had decided to carry out a second evaluation to establish the actual value of the company.

The fresh evaluation would be conducted by the Consolidated Holding Corporation (CHC), the state body charged with overseeing public organisations listed for divestiture.

Shareholders: Dar es Salaam City Council, Simon Group Ltd and the government through Treasury Registrar agreed in principle last December that the second evaluation should be done for the purpose of clearing the air over the much hyped malpractices and non-adherence to set procedures during the sale of UDA shares to Simon Group Ltd in February 2011.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding signed in tripartite, Simon Group is recognised as one of three shareholders, though there is no justification as who should be regarded as the main shareholder until the evaluation is concluded by CHC.

During the meeting which was a follow-up of another stakeholders’ meeting held on November 9, 2011 the  parties agreed on the proposal tabled by Treasury Registrar that 49 percent owned by the government be sold to investor – Simon Group on top of the unallotted shares, which were under dispute.

Paragraph 4.0 of the minutes states: “SGL (Simon Group Ltd should buy 49 percent and unallotted shares remain in the government through the Treasury registrar so as to raise funds to run UDA.”

On the need for valuation, paragraph 6.0 states that that an interim board would be formed, which would consist of three members instead of six members as proposed earlier on. The interim board would be in place for 50 days until February 20, 2012 otherwise there was need for extension of that period as may be agreed by stakeholders.

“As agreed at the November 9, 2011 stakeholders meeting, members agreed on share valuation under a consultant agreed by all parties in collaboration with CHC.

The parties also agreed that 49 percent of shares be sold at a price proposed by the appointed consultant, same applied for the unallotted shares, which are under UDA and SGL subscription agreement.

On the other hand while the stakeholders agreed that the amendment be made in the share subscription agreement for the interest of shareholders, they also agreed that the same agreement would not be affected in any way.

Section (e) of the matters agreed during the meeting says: share subscription agreement will not be affected in any way until it is amended as may be agreed upon by all interested parties.

Simon Group Executive Chairman, told The Guardian on Sunday this week that his office was ready to wait for the outcome of CHC share evaluation as it would be the appropriate avenue to have all key issues solved.

‘There are two main issues which arose in our purchase of UDA shares, one is the value of the company and the price of shares and the second is whether the process was properly followed… therefore we hope everything will be solved through evaluation,” he stated.

Kisena added: “We are ready to invest heavily and since the contract signed in February 2011 is valid all preparations are underway and the first 30 buses of 40 seats each are already in the country and would be unveiled on February 18 as they are being painted to reflect UDA colours (maroon and yellow)”.

He said four buses out of 30 would be special for students so as to reduce the escalating transportation problem for students in Dar es Salaam.

“We are determined in this business. Our plan to have 150 buses including articulated ones in Dar es Salaam is firm and no doubt that we will implement it after going through all hurdles,” he affirmed.

Kisena also said in the long run his company was planning to have inter – regional buses operating from Dar es Slaam to Arusha, Moshi, Iringa and Mbeya and having another base in Mwanza for buses plying Bukoba – Kampala, Mara,  Kigali and Bujumbura.

UDA, a public transport company which now owns seven city buses was in the headlines mid last year after reports came out that it was sold to Simon Group Ltd for Sh1.2 billion, which was argued to be meager as the total assets available in 2008 would place the company’s assets value at around Sh12 billion.

More confusion surfaced in the matter as it was learnt that initial payment paid by Simon Group and termed commitment fees amounting to Sh285 million was deposited in the personal bank account and other accounts belonging to firms with close relationship with then UDA Chairman, Idd Simba.

Simon Group say they deposited the money upon being directed in writing to do so as the official UDA bank account had overdrafts and so depositing any amount of money would lead to its being withdrawn by creditors.

Who is Robert Kisena

Robert Kisena marks his 40th birthday on February 22 but at that relatively young age he owns seven companies which he claims to active in every aspect of business dealings.

The companies include Moja Foods Ltd, Universal Cargo Trans-shipment and Holdings Ltd, Allied Freighters Ltd, Basic Element Ltd Robanska Agrio Products Ltd, Simon Group Ltd and Simon Agency Ltd.

He is personally worth billions of shillings though in a polite way he is reluctant to be referred as a millionaire, let alone a billionaire.

“I think of money always in the office, at home and when in the church. I think of God and money; I am convinced that this is the way to progress,” he mused in a confident pose.

Born in Maswa district in Shinyanga in 1972, Robert Kisena had his secondary School education at Nsumba Secondary School in Mwanza before he studied Advanced Secondary School at Pugu where he completed in 1994.

He says he joined business straight away after completion of secondary school as his family was not able to foot his fees at higher learning institutions, therefore he did not apply for university.

“At the beginning it was very difficult to run business because of lack of capital. I started as a local agent for Olam (Tanzania) Ltd. They used to pay me, buy cotton and in turn I was paid a commission. Later on I established Simon agency,” he recalls.

“By 1999 I was able to recruit 60 to 100 people by the time Olam commissioned me work to buy them packaging material for coffee in Bukoba. It was around this period that co-operative unions were  approaching death, therefore I leased an oil mill at Malampaka from the Shinyanga Region Cooperative Union (SHIRECU). In 2001 I was leased a cotton ginnery at the same center. All this was possible after acquiring a Sh200million loan from the National Bureau de Change (now Azania Bancorp),” he remembers further.

Kisena said his only post- secondary education training is a three months study in 2007 in India specifically on fiber in the cotton industry.  He managed to acquire a second loan $500,000 (Sh800million) from the Standard Chattered Bank in 2002 which helped him strengthen the ginnery business as it required bigger capital.

Married to Florensia and father of three children Gloria (10), George (8) and Simon (6), he says that in 2004 he started constructing his own ginnery in Malampaka that was completed in 2006, and its official opening was graced by President Jakaya Kikwete in 2007. He also has built another cotton ginnery at Kaliua in Urambo, Tabora which is yet to be opened due to the power grid connection problem.

Other big properties include a wheat and maize mill located at Mikocheni in Dar es Slaam formerly owned by the Scandinavia Group.

Robert Kisena who during the 2010 elections vied for the parliamentary seat for Maswa East on the CCM ticket only to be defeated by opposition candidate John Shibuda, says he has resigned from active politics and would not recommend anybody to take part in active politics.

“It is a very risky career, it consume a lot of time. You campaign day and night and very unfortunately you talk to people you are not sure if they are going to vote for you. Worse, some of them change their minds as who to vote for by the time they are presented with a ballot paper,” notes Kisena. He also says he does not remember the number of votes he attained but what he recalls is that he succumbed to a defeat.

To his school’s mates who studied at Nsumba Secondary School, he was described as ambitious, soft spoken and money minded.

To those who know him especially in Mwanza the question is not when he get his wealth, but how. Some believe he has strong backing from ‘sleeping’ partners especially from the ruling elite, but he strongly denies having any link with top government officials.

He appeared for meeting with editors on Thursday, in a regular editors’ forum in Dar es Salaam, where he aired his grievances concerning about what he called negative reporting on his businesses especially the UDA deal.

In his explanation, he strongly denied having any links with top officials from the ruling party, laying bare what happened between him and Iddi Simba.

By Florian Kaijage, The Guardian



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