As a remarkable pile of money lies idle on Switzerland accounts belonging to Mark Koehler, the Managing Director of giant construction firm ROKO, over 27 creditors have sought Court redress to have the firm declared insolvent after failing to clear huge outstanding debts.
The debts amount to shs 317 billion which Roko owes to different creditors and suppliers. The money is both in local and foreign currency.
Roko’s indebtedness was exposed on December 11, 2020 when Roofings- a legitimate supplier of construction materials petitioned the Commercial Division of the High Court pursuing recovery of up to Shs165m and up $552m.
Roofings was joined by another 26 entities that demanded payment of Ugx 40 billion (About $ 36 million).
What remains shocking is that all Roko’s local bank accounts have been drained its balance reads zero.
It is therefore nerve-wracking that a purported leading construction firm in the land with a number of subsidiaries across the region can have its bank accounts drawn to zero, yet it remains operational and undertaking several huge contracts from government and other private companies.
“So where does it get money to run its projects, because it has these projects running for example constructing the new Parliament building,” said an official in government.
Roko has been in existence for 51 years in Uganda after its founder Mr. Rainer Koehler came to the country in 1969.
Mr. Rainer however, passed away in 2013 and left the company in the hands of his over ambitious son Mark who apparently has run down the multibillion entity.
A worker at the headquarter in Kawempe, a Kampala suburb who wished to remain unnamed but privy to the dealings of Mark Koehler said his boss has been stashing huge of sums of cash in Switzerland, his home country.
“Every time he gets a contract, he takes part of the money to his home. He has been advised on a number of times that he will run down the company he never listens,” the worker said.
He said exposing his identity risks his job.
Repatriating the heaps of money has impacted on the operations of the company.
For example, 4 years after winning the shs 270 billion tender to construct new Parliament block, Roko remains struggling with stalled work.
“This compels our managers to get materials from suppliers on credit so as to complete the job. And that is how the debts have been accumulating to tunes of billions over the years,” our source at Kawempe said.
On a numerous occasions, Roko has finished collecting money from the client when work is undone.
“Now like the Parliament project, the money must be finished yet the work is half-way.”
The slow progress of Parliament building has since irked the Speaker and top administration of the legislature.
Hon Rebecca Kadaga wondered why the contractor was employing a skeleton staff when work is way behind the schedule.
“Because Roko can’t manage to have many workers at the site. Bosses say they don’t want to incur extra costs,” a source said.
However, Roko defended its decision to have a handful of builders at the site saying the company was observing COVID-19 guideline of social distancing.
Another scenario, a separate source revealed to us is about the construction of Ministry of Finance headquarters, a project that has never seen light of the day yet the contractor finished receiving all the payment.
Startlingly, the same Ministry of Finance came out last year on November 20, 2020 to defend the company after Roofing’s dragged it to Court.
Minister Matia Kasaija indicated that government owes shs 46 billion because of the cash flow problems brought by COVID-19.
Roko would later ‘chest-thump’ that it is handling 24 projects worth shs 800 billion and therefore, Roofings’ shs 2 billion was simply peanut.
But our source at Kawempe revealed that Roko has godfathers in Government and particularly Ministry of Finance who keep shielding its shenanigans since they hugely benefit from the payments extended to the company in form of bribes.
Authorities want ROKO investigated by Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) as the cash hoard keeps growing on Mark Koehler’s offshore accounts.
The question remains, should government keep entrusting a financial limping firm with multibillion projects at the expense of taxpayer’s money?
The High Court is yet to pronounce itself on the insolvency suit against ROKO.
No official in Roko’s top administration was willing to comment on the matter when contacted.
Equally officials in the Ministry of Finance were not available for a comment.