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Government under fire over sugar crisis

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By Yasiin Mugerwa

Posted  Tuesday, August 9   2011 at  00:00
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With the economy experiencing the worst slow-down in 10 years amidst double-digit inflation, partly driven by high fuel prices, the government was yesterday criticised for its “confused” response to the crisis. The latest criticism draws from the flip-flopping of the government over the sugar crisis, with Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mr Nandala Mafabi, berating what he called a “confused Executive”.

Anxiety over the lack of clarity on the crisis came after a State House press officer yesterday said Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde can explain “her lifting of a ban on export of sugar” hours after the declared a freeze. Deputy Press Secretary in the Office of the President, Ms Linda Nabusayi, told Daily Monitor to ask Ms Kyambadde for an explanation of the matter in which the minster had claimed this newspaper “misrepresented” the President.

Nothing to explain
Information Minister Mary Karooro Okurut, meanwhile, insisted there was nothing to explain “because the minister (Ms Kyambadde) said in her statement that the President was misquoted”.
On Saturday, Ms Kyambadde sent out a press statement contradicting a press release issued from State House on Friday in which Mr Museveni is quoted saying: “Sugar importation will be regulated and controlled and will be stored in bonded warehouses. We should not allow exportation because this has been part of the problem.”

President Museveni’s spokesman, Mr Tamale Mirundi, yesterday confirmed the President’s initial statement banning sugar exports, but said the position changed moments later. He said Ms Kyambadde met the President and a decision was taken to “watch exports closely”.

“There is no conflict between the President and Amelia. Amelia consulted the President and she cannot contradict the President. It’s a question of interpretation,” Mr Tamale said. He added: “Regulating sugar exports means government is monitoring the situation closely.”

Amelia’s statement supersedes the earlier decision,” “It was PPU statement that quoted the President banning sugar exports but later there was a meeting with the President that changed the earlier decision. What Amelia’s position means is that the position is under review.” Reacting to this, Mr Mafabi accused the government of failing to muster coherent effort to address the economic crisis in the country.

‘Amelia not serious’
“Ministers are confused and the President is stuck. That’s why there is no coordination,” he told reporters yesterday. “The President says sugar exports have been banned and minutes later his minister comes out to confuse Ugandans who are suffering already.”

Mr Mafabi said: “As opposition, we asked the government to deal with mismanagement of public funds, cut public expenditure, and invest in productive areas … to solve the current economic crisis. But it appears they are arrogant and as a result it’s the confusion we see as inflation continues to rise.”

The Shadow Minister for Local Government, Ms Betty Nambooze, said: “I am not surprised. In fact, this is not the first time Amelia is confusing Ugandans. At one time she suspended trading licences (during the traders strike in early July) and a day after she came back to Parliament with a statement reinstating the same. She is not serious.”

The Mukono Municipality MP added: “What Ugandans want is a coordinated government response to the crisis not this sugar confusion.” Uganda is suffering a severe sugar crisis with shortages and prices rising from Shs3,000 a kilogramme up to Shs8,000 in less than two months.

The crisis compelled the President on Friday to tour major sugar-making factories, Kakira and SCOUL, after which the statement was issued in which the President announced the export ban.

In her Saturday statement claiming the President as misrepresented, Ms Kyambadde says: “Government is committed to facilitating the sugar factories to produce more for self-sufficiency and export to the regional and international markets.”

‘Take a stand’
The chairperson of Parliament’s committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprise, Mr Patrick Oboi, asked the President to explain the correct government position on sugar exports and the decisions his government is taking to deal with the economic crisis.

“It’s sad that the President can give a policy direction and in 24 hours a minister comes out to contradict him. Everybody in government is in a state of confusion; they don’t know what to do.” Responding to the attacks, Mr Tamale Mirundi said the opposition was making a mountain out of a molehill and accused them of politicking.