Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga has faulted the government for ignoring the plight of Ugandans while signing a contract that gives monopoly of the country’s coffee exports to foreigners.
Speaking during Easter prayers at Rubaga Cathedral, the Katikkiro says the controversial deal should have been signed after thorough consultations with all relevant stakeholders because coffee forms a financial base of very many Ugandans.
Mayiga’s remarks were in reference to a contract which the Ministry of Finance Minister Matia Kasaija signed on February 10, 2022 with Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited (UVCCL), a company owned by Italian Enrica Pinetti.
The agreement, however, has since drawn ire from local coffee stakeholders especially after it emerged that the terms accorded to the Italian’s company is protectionist and directly impedes local companies from trading in coffee.
Among the most controversial clauses in the contract include extending tax exemptions to the Italian company yet locals are tasked to pay the same taxes. The company will also be at liberty to set its own price at which to buy coffee while certain coffee quotas will be capped to be channeled to the company, with local companies only being able to export any excess coffee which will be left.
The excessively favorable terms have thrown panic among local coffee players who see them as an attempt by government to lock Ugandans out of the coffee trade. As a result, many stakeholders have come up to condemn the ‘extortionist’ terms while also vowing to block the implementation of the said agreement.
In a statement which was issued after news of the deal went viral, the Uganda national farmers federation (UNFF) said the deal is bad for local farmers as it creates a monopoly which will shut out local investors from coffee export unless government makes more relaxed terms for locals.
In his statement, Katikkiro Mayiga bashed the agreement, saying it had ignored the role of other stakeholders in the coffee trade. Mayiga noted that, for instance, government should have sought views from Buganda Kingdom, which has played a very critical role in boosting coffee farming in the country.
Mayiga noted that because of the kingdom’s mobilization efforts, coffee growing in the country increased by 35%, with Buganda region alone contributing 30% to the country’s total coffee exports.
MINISTER, SOLICITOR GENERAL DISOWN CONTRACT
Other stakeholders including Bugisu Co-operative Union (BCU) threatened to drag government to court over the contract.
Commenting on the agreement, BCU Chairman Nandala Mafabi revealed that it was plagued with procedural flaws. Mafabi’s assertion followed the disownment of the said contract by the minister for agriculture Frank Tumwebaze as well as the Solicitor General (SG) who is mandated by the law to approve such contracts.
Mafabi revealed that it was suspicious of government to give such concessions to the Italian firm which doesn’t own any coffee farms in the country.
He thus expressed worry that the concessions given to UVCCL will not only enslave Ugandan coffee farmers but also contradict government’s ethos of economic liberalization.
Mafabi’s concerns were echoed by Makerere university political science don, Ndebesa Mwebesa who said, “There’s need to look at how we can promote African investors. Coffee is our bedroom and we shouldn’t allow visitors (foreign investors there. They should stay in the sitting room.”
Minister Kasaija and his Permanent Secretary Ramathan Goobi vehemently defended the contract as beneficial to Ugandan coffee farmers. While Kasaija noted that he did no wrong in signing the contract, Goobi defended it on the premise of UVCCL’s commitment to buy coffee at a “premium” price.
And while the contract was cleared by the Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, these three men are hard done-by by the solicitor general’s disownment of the agreement.
While asked about the contract, the SG Francis Atoke simply said, “I have never seen it. It is a straight answer.”
It now remains to be seen if anything will be done to address the standoff from this contract. This comes on the backdrop of reports that parliament has summoned Minister Kasaija and his colleagues party to the controversial agreement to appear before the house and explain it.
MP TEBANDEKE: FISH TRADE NOT ANY BETTER
Meanwhile, similar concerns have emerged in the fish trade. While raising a matter of national importance in parliament last Thursday, Bbale county Member of parliament Charles Tebandeke expressed dissatisfaction over the discrimination of locals in the issuance of licences to traders of fish maw (swim bladder).
While raising the matter of national importance in parliament, Tebandeke said that Ugandans are being denied their right to trade in fish maws yet they pay licenses to deal in the business.
Fish maw extract is often used in the making of surgical stitching threads and aesthetic drugs among other uses.
According to Tebandeke, the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries is only licensing foreigners, leaving out Ugandans in the business of fisheries.
A visibly irked Tebandeka was even forced to speak Kiswahili, saying business is very bad, work is very difficult for the local Ugandans but all this misery was being caused upon Ugandans by their own government!
Reacting to Tebandeke’s concern, Justine Kasule Lumumba, the Minister in Charge of General duties also the Acting Gov’t chief, asked the Minister in charge of Fisheries to make a substantive statement on the matter raised because it affects more than half of the country.
Meanwhile, the Speaker of parliament asked all MPs from the fishing communities to compile their issues regarding fish challenges to ministers responsible to find a solution.
However, Kasule guided that these MPs be allowed to channel their complaints through the government Chief Whip who will then forward the reports to the relevant ministers.