Budadiri West MP Nandala Mafabi has slammed the government for flouting procedures after the Solicitor General (SG) walked away from a controversial coffee processing deal.
Mr Mafabi, who is also chairman of the Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU) – set up by coffee growers in 1954, said the revelation adds a new twist to what appears to be a long saga.
On February 10, Finance Minister Matia Kasaija signed an exclusive coffee processing contract with Mrs. Enrica Pinetti, owner of the Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited (UVCC).
The contents of the deal – witnessed by Mr Ramathan Ggoobi (Treasury Secretary) and Mr Moses Matovu (UVCC Company Secretary) – were recently unveiled exclusively in the Sunday Monitor.
While Attorney General (AG) Kiwanuka Kiryowa owned the deal, SG Francis Atoke distanced himself from the deal.
“I’ve never seen it. I haven’t seen it. That’s a straight answer,” Mr Atoke said in a phone interview.
But Mr Kiryowa said he had approved the deal.
Article 119 of the Constitution mandates the GA to issue an opinion on all contracts, agreements, treaties, conventions to which the government is a party.
The power to review and approve contracts and any other agreements is however exercised by the SG in accordance with Section 29 of the Interpretation Act.
The law essentially empowers the SG to exercise the functions of the AG.
The SG is the highest technocrat in the AG Bureau. The AG – a visiting political appointee – relies on the in-house legal expertise of the Office of the AG.
The coffee processing agreement follows marathon steps taken by the government, including amending the Coffee Law and withdrawing from the International Coffee Organization.
“By nature, this is a solid agreement, which should benefit from the input of the Solicitor General. We don’t know his office knows. It is null and void,” said Mr. Mafabi, an accountant and lawyer.
He added: “But even if he had been consulted, where is the cafe belonging to the government? Where is the Italian coffee farm [in Uganda]? Are we suppressing liberalisation? Why do you want to make slaves of Ugandans?
Mr Mafabi said that since the coffee growers “are not government employees”, they cannot be forced into an untenable deal.
He added: “If you force me to do something I don’t want, I can cut the coffee. What are you going to do to me?”
Responding to the GA, which said Ugandan investors can be granted the same concessions given to the UVCC, Mr Mafabi, a coffee farmer, said: “If you give exemptions, give everyone the world… Just make a policy in Parliament and say all the coffee. farmers are entitled to it”.
He called the finance ministry’s decision to exclude the trade and agriculture ministries “crazy” when drawing up the coffee processing deal.
Agriculture Minister Frank Tumwebaze revealed last week that his ministry was not “left/deprived of [the coffee processing] deal.”
Mr Kiryowa told the Sunday Monitor the deal was aimed at attracting more investors. He said the generous concessions given to Ms Pinetti can even be offered to a Ugandan.
Former Vison Group CEO Robert Kabushenga, also a coffee producer, however believes that the concessions granted to Ms Pinetti essentially create a foreign buyer monopoly, which will set its own prices.
“We coffee farmers have been betrayed and sold out. It was never about adding value. The coffee sector was mortgaged to foreigners. Compradors no longer hide,” Mr. Kabushenga told NTV Uganda’s first political talk show, On the Spot.
On Tuesday, Ms Anita Among, the Speaker of Parliament, instructed the Committee on Trade, Tourism and Industry to analyze the controversial coffee deal.
● Agreement signed on February 10.
● UVCC is registered and located at Plot 2, Summit View in Kololo.
● The UVCC was granted free land in the Industrial and Commercial Park of Namanve.
● The UVCC obtains the exclusive right to purchase all Ugandan coffee.
● The UVCC will not be able to pay any form of tax before 2032.
● The UVCC will be entitled to all tax exemptions provided by Ugandan law.
● The exemptions are applicable to all activities of the company and its foreign personnel.
● No import duties, VAT, excise duty, stamp duty, corporate tax and employment related taxes.