The ongoing chain of events in parliament where MPs are asking the tough questions on transparency, accountability, and suspected corruption through negligence, laxity and perhaps connivance, gives collective hope to the good things yet to come from the 11th parliament. Ministers are on the spotlight from multiple fronts over the stalled Lubowa Specialized Hospital and skewed agreement on Coffee processing and Export with the same company, Naguru estate land allocations where ghost firms have reportedly benefited, and on Science, technology and innovation fund for Covid-19 in Uganda.
Lubowa hospital, and the President Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) are both new and noble efforts to make Uganda self-reliant, but we need to safeguard against possible subterfuge by fifth columnists seeking to undermine them because many now know that President Yoweri Museveni is focusing on technology and innovation as priority areas and may try to siphon off money as has been done previously under similar projects.
Looking at how Science and technology minister Monica Musenero has been scotched this past month over how innovation funds were expended allegedly without much visible results on the ground, apparent lack of accountability, and what some MPs describe as unconvincing, one cannot help but pity her and those in charge of the project. Now a small group of MPs are baying for blood demanding that she resigns, gets sacked or be censured. Musenero, who has now been absolved by the ad hoc committee report, maybe finding herself in trouble perhaps because she’s straight jacketed in work methods, and being blackmailed by some retrenched staff who became crooked whistle-blowers to parliament.
And Musenero isn’t alone on the roasting oven as Finance Minister Matia Kasaija, his Permanent Secretary (PS) Ramadham Ggoobi, and the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) under him are being faulted for having not done an effective due diligence on Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited (UVCCL), a private company contracted to process Uganda’s main export. The ‘mother’ Ministry of Agriculture, that of Trade, Tourism and Industry, Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) and all other major sector stakeholders like farmers, local processors, traders and exporters were all sidestepped in the run up to the deal, and they are angry.
For the record, government, through the Ministry of Finance first signed the memorandum of understanding with UVCCL in April 2015 when Kasaija and Keith Muhakanizi were Minister and PS respectively. Muhakanizi has since been transferred to the Prime Minister’s office. Since 2015 little efforts appear to have been made by the Finance ministry to rectify the obvious loopholes which UVCCL has exploited. To be clear, no one in their reasonable mind is opposed to giving incentives to investors foreign or local, and upgrading our commodity value-chain, but Ugandans demand transparency, accountability and equity from the responsible public officials.
As is unfolding, MPs suspect that UVCCL could be a shadowy company, or at least doesn’t have the capacity, track record, or verifiable interest in processing Uganda’s coffee to the high grade it claims it seeks to do. With its paltry USD 10M, they say UVCCL can neither obtain loans nor build the 60,000tn annually coffee processing facility worth USD 440M required, because to-date it hasn’t even scratched the ground to begin construction. The parliamentary investigations done so far, has exposed a litany of huge gaps that UVCCL, represented here by a one Ms Enrica Pinetti, an Italian businesswoman has been able to drive a 40 ton truck through without finding much obstacles, and apparently smiling her way to the bank.
She has had access to the highest offices in Uganda, extracted many and huge generous concessions of twenty-five acres of free land in the lucrative Kampala Industrial and Business Park, Namanve, multiple tax exemptions including Import duty everything it brings, Exercise Duty, Corporate income tax, withholding tax, VAT, PAYE, NSSF, work permit fees, and local service tax which MPs find not only irregular, unlawful, illegal but in some instances unconstitutional. UVCCL has defiantly refused to provide some of the critical investment documents for parliamentary scrutiny upon which they accessed these generous concessions. UVCCL hasn’t paid any dues like annual rent or park service charges yet continues to seek generous perks.
According to the contract, almost 60% of Uganda’s coffee is being ring-fenced for UVCCL, which MPs find obnoxious, contrary liberalization policy and offends free business competition in the sector. The minister of Finance while appearing before the Parliament Trade Committee confessed not to have read the company’s investment feasibility study.
Contrary to the law, and UIA rules and regulations, UVCCL has had its five year land lease extended to 49 years even before it could even construct a single structure on it, and worse, has mortgaged the land to obtain a bank loan whose purpose and utilisation are yet to be established. It’s clear from the afore-going that a number of government projects get soiled because often, the responsible officials don’t pay adequate attention, and therefore, MPs should tighten the noose to ensure better, efficient and value for money service delivery.
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