Dar es Salaam. The long awaited Dar es Salaam Bus Rapid Transit (Dart) kicks off today amid a shareholders tussle following a decision by the city authorities to annul the controversial sale of UDA (Usafiri Dar es Salaam).
Dar es Salaam Mayor Isaya Mwita announced at a press conference that authorities had approved a vote by City Fathers to cancel the sale of UDA to Simon Group Company on account of impropriety in the whole transaction.
But in an immediate rejoinder, Simon Group’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Robert Kisena, said the council’s move would be tantamount to a coup against a legally binding agreement.
“I have not received any communication to that effect but all I can say now is that the City Council cannot purport to disown its own agreement to sell their stake in UDA to Simon Group. They cannot annul agreement outside the court mechanism through which their sale was confirmed,” Mr Kisena told The Citizen in a telephone interview.
According to him, the private company has fully paid for the cost of the takeover, including the balance of Sh5.963 billion that was fully paid to the city last month. “And they have used the money to pay for their debts, so how come then they now claim ignorance of the deal?”
Mr Mwita’s announcement coincided with an approval the Surface and Marine Transport Authority (Sumatra) for the start of Dart operations today to the relief of thousands of commuters who have waited for the service for years.
Sumatra released the official fares agreed with the investors to allow for a smooth kickoff after the initial efforts were held back over ticket pricing and UDA ownership tussles pitting the government against Simon Group.
It was not immediately clear if the bold decision by the city council would directly impact the Dart operations as Simon Group is the largest shareholders in the joint venture that won the tender to operate the new transport system in the interim.
The multi-billion-shilling transport project will be undertaken by UDA-RT, a joint venture between UDA and a group of private daladala operators.
UDA ownership has remained contested for several years now, with claims Simon Group illegally disinherited the city council of its shares in the hitherto public transport company. The government, through the treasury registrar also claimed a stake in the same company.
Signs that Dart will finally take off emerged last week when Local government minister George Simbachawene told Parliament the government had secured its 49 per cent stake in UDA and revealed Simon Group controlled the remaining 51 per cent stake.
The minister said the city’s claim of ownership in the 51 stake owned by Simon Group was subject to a legal provision that the government had little influence over. He told Parliament that securing the government’s stake was critical to allow for the operations to begin because Simon Group earlier claimed 100 per cent ownership.
Yesterday’s move by the now Opposition parties-controlled city council thus opens a new war front as Councillors seek to restore the authority’s shares in UDA which Mr Mwita said were corruptly acquired by Simon Group. The mayor said they will not rest until the transport company was fully restored to the public.
Mr Mwita said the council’s leadership in the past colluded to offload the authority’s controlling shares in transactions he said lacked any backing as required under the law. He said neither procurement nor shareholders consultations took place before the decision to sell the business.
“Even the treasury was not engaged in the process. There is no where you can find evidences showing that the treasury registrar as the public custodian endorsed the city council to sell its shares to Simon Group,” Mr Mwita said, noting that UDA’s unallotted shares could not be sold to a third party.
“UDA was under the Parastatal Sector Reform Commission as a specified company. Before selling its shares, the city council was supposed to first consult the Consolidate Holding Company which took over the PSRC role,” said Mr Mwita.
Hr acknowledged Simon Group’s payment of Sh5.963 billion but said the city council had formed a select committee to probe the whole transaction before making any tangible decision on the funds.
Meanwhile, commuters will pay a maximum of Sh800 on using Dart, a drop from the initial Sh1200 to Sh1400 proposed by the interim operator, according to Sumatra. Shorter routes would attract from Sh400 to Sh650.
The official fares released show that the commuters will pay the Sh800 for feeder and trunk route, Sh650 for trunk route alone and Sh400 for feeder route alone. Students will pay a flat rate fare of Sh200 for all routes. The feeder route is the distance linking to the BRT infrastructure while the trunk route is any distance travelled on the new infrastructure.
For instance, feeder and trunk route involves travelling from Mbezi to the city centre (Kivukoni) and one of the trunk routes starts from the city centre to Kimara and feeder route starts from Kimara to Mbezi.
Announcing the fares, Sumatra Director General Gilliard Ngewe said for two days, the commuters will travel for free as the crews tests the electronic billing system. Fares will apply from Thursday. Commuters will use specially made cards and barcodes to pay.
“The services offered will be punctual and well-coordinated as the people involved will handle the matter in a professional way to meet customer satisfaction,” Mr Ngewe said.
The buses will operate for 19 hours every day from 5am.
However, he was not in a position to tell the number of the buses that would hit the city roads from today because the number of the drivers was not yet clear.
Reported by Musita John, Bernard Lugongo and Douglas Matiko