PARLIAMENT. Minister of Finance Matia Kasaija and the Secretary to Treasury Keith Muhakanizi have been accused of being behind a decision to exempt taxes on imported unprocessed rice in order to benefit from the directive.
The makings of what could unravel into a ‘rice scandal’ took shape the moment Aruu MP, Mr Odonga Otto, was given the floor during yesterday’s plenary session.
“I have documents here to that effect and I can even name the minister who gave me the information because the ministers know where and why they disagreed,” he said. He soon named Minister for Water Ronald Kibuule as his source of information.
If confirmed, Otto’s accusations potentially raise the possibility of a conflict of interest given that the two are deeply involved in the country’s revenue collection and expenditure processes.
Parliament has on at least three occasions passed motions of censure against some ministers accused of dabbling in activities shrouded in conflict of interest, leading to their ejection from Cabinet.
Speaking on a point of information, Mr Otto said the two senior government officers are pushing to trade in unprocessed rice tax free for four months because “they imported colossal tons of rice and want to sell it to Ministry for Disaster Preparedness and profiteer from it.”
Before Mr Otto spoke, Ajuri MP Hamson Obua was questioning the rationale under which the ministry of disaster preparedness is handing out only rice to hunger-stricken districts, like Alebtong, yet delivery schedules include other commodities like maize flour. He was debating a motion in favour of the President being asked to declare a state of emergency on account of the famine ravaging parts of Uganda.
Last evening, Mr Kasaija spoke to Daily Monitor aboard a flight from the United States of America. Mr Kasaija sounded exasperated. “I don’t own a business of rice. Odonga Otto is speaking stupidly like that because he gets a fat salary from government and doesn’t know what his people in Aruu are going through.”
He said the decision to waive taxes on imported rice “was not made by Kasaija but by Cabinet to reduce the price of rice in light of the ongoing drought. Tell Muhakanizi to give you the documents.”
Mr Muhakanizi also took the noncommittal route, telling Daily Monitor to “talk to the minister (Matia Kasaija).
When pressed on whether he is involved in the rice business, he responded, “I have said talk to the minister.” And when reminded that it was the minister himself who had asked that he shed more light on the matter, the Secretary to the Treasury stuck to “talk to the minister”.
Mr Kibuule’s known mobile phones were switched off
This week, Mbarara municipality MP, Michael Tusiime picked 600 bags of rice in government relief food for the urban poor in his constituency. Parliament also heard yesterday that Masaka was given 400 tonnes with Vice President Edward Ssekandi, whose Bukoto Central seat is in the district, being allocated 90 tonnes for relief in his constituency.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga didn’t allow debate on the matter, advising that it will be picked up on another day.