The future of Uganda’s coffee sector and the 15 million people engaged in the crop’s value-chain remains unclear after the Deputy Speaker of Parliament declined the tabling and debate of a key report on the sector.
The document prepared by the House committee touched on the contentious agreement between the government and Italian investor Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Ltd.
But for the third time in a week, Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa defied pressure from legislators to amend the order paper and allow the Trade Committee chairman Mwine Mpaka to table the report. On May 2, Mr Mpaka said the probe report into the Vinci coffee deal was ready and only awaited allocation of time on the order paper to table it before Parliament.
“The item will come,” Mr Tayebwa said. “I know the report is complete, but the presiding officer always has to read through the report [and] comprehend it so that they are able to moderate the matter once it is on the floor.”
Stirred up emotions
Mr Tayebwa was responding to Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, who said the coffee agreement was “urgent” and “contentious”, and the report’s findings and recommendations should be given priority before the Speaker referred new business to the trade committee.
The report, which was signed by all 27 committee members, will be debated followed by a vote to decide whether to terminate the coffee deal or uphold it.
On February 10, Uganda government through Finance Minister Matia Kasaija and Permanent Secretary Ramathan Ggoobi, signed a deal with Vinci Coffee Company, represented by Enrica Pinetti.
The agreement gives Vinci Coffee Company a monopoly not only to buy, but also to set the price at which the coffee is supplied to it.
The deal also makes number of other concessions that have been roundly criticised by legislators and players in the coffee sector. These include a 10-year tax holiday and contributions to the National Social Security Fund, 25 acres of land at the Namanve industrial and business park to build a 60,000 tonnes per annum soluble coffee processing facility, which will start with 27,000 tonnes.
When it became public, the agreement stirred up emotions among players in the sector, which employs many Ugandans, including 12 million farmers, as well as traders and exporters that earn from the country’s leading crop export.