Govt to give away Aswa, Nshaara ranches to NRM party, farmers
What you need to know:
Giveaway. Should the process be fast-tracked as the Agriculture minister has directed, in the next few months, the government ranches of Aswa in northern Uganda and Nshaara in the western part of the country will for the next 49 years be laced in the hands of private individuals and the NRM party. The programme is not under a private-public partnership
Government is plotting to give away at least 24 square miles of State-owned ranches to private groups and individuals, including the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, on a 49-year lease in a move likely to open old wounds on the questionablw acquisition of public property since Mr Museveni became president in 1986.
Daily Monitor has seen correspondences between executive director of the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Databank (NAGRCDB), Dr W.W. Kifudde and Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Mr Vincent Ssempijja, which have authorised giveaway of the government ranches to the NRM Secretariat, Ankole Long-Horned Cattle Breeders Cooperative Society, Mechanized Agro (U) Ltd, Abeki Co. Ltd and Banuti Ranchers.
Should the process be fast-tracked as minister Ssempijja has directed, in the next few months the government ranches of Aswa in northern Uganda and Nshaara in Ankole in western region will for the next 49 years be in the hands of the ruling NRM party and private individuals.
What is more intriguing is that the ranch giveaway scheme is not under a private-public partnership.
On February 20, Dr Johnson Nkuuhe, the NAGRCDB board chairperson, wrote to Dr Kifudde, the agency’s executive director. IN the letter, Dr Nkuuhe expressed rage and disappointment at what he called an “illegal scheme” underway to plunder government land.
He advised Dr Kifudde to free himself from risks of looming administrative and penal sanctions.
“The so-called allocation of two square miles of land is completely ultra-vires [beyond] your and the said commissioner’s power. Accordingly whatever its worth, it stands cancelled and revoked from the date hereof. You are consequently directed to recall your land allocation letters forthwith and stop any attempts at giving access of whatever nature to the said persons on any part of Nshaara government ranch or otherwise to survey the land arbitrarily,” Dr Nkuuhe charged in his letter to Dr Kifudde.
Earlier on February 9, Dr Kifudde had written to Mr Emmanuel Kamihingo and Mr Erick Rutahigwa (directors of Ankore Long-Horned Cattle Breeders Cooperative Society) referring to the letter they had written to Minister Ssempijja and its approval by the Commissioner for Planning and Development at the ministry to give away the ranches.
Sources close to the ranches giveaway scheme have described the process as “connivance” between the ministry and NAGRCDB executive. On the same day (February 20) when Dr Kifudde wrote to Minister Ssempijja, he received a reply from him just hours after.
“I am writing to guide you to immediately prepare a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and have surveys carried out at the expense of the beneficiaries for the farming areas stated,” Minister Ssempijja wrote back replying to the letter Dr Kifudde had written to him a few hours earlier.
The board chairman Dr Nkuuhe, who had been copied in but had not received the letter, was tipped by a senior staff who leaked a copy of the letter to him. Upon seeing the letter, Dr Nkuuhe wrote on the same day reprimanding Dr Kifudde and warning him of the imminent danger and legal risk the giveaway of government ranches would breed.
According to Ssempijja’s letter, upon Dr Kifudde finalising the MoUs with the NRM Secretariate and the co-beneficiaries, the Agriculture ministry’s Permanent Secretary would undertake quality assurance on the MoUs and forward the same to the Solicitor General for approval. Thereafter the MoUs would be signed by the ministry and the beneficiaries.
To ensure the giveaway moves at the fastest pace possible, which is uncharacteristic of government transactions, Mr Ssempijja ordered Dr Kifudde to start surveying the land and processing lease titles as he works on the MoU.
In this whole scheme of things, Parliament, the Attorney General, Cabinet and the board of NAGRCDB are not mentioned as part of the stakeholders to be consulted on the dubious venture.
“For the cattle donated to NRM during the last elections which number about 800 as of now, when they increase to at least 2,000, the secretariat was directed to give out to the local people at least 500 every two years to fulfill our national objective of availing good genetics to the local people,” Mr Ssempijja wrote to Dr Kifudde.
Ankole Long-Horned Cattle Breeders Cooperative Society, the Banuti Ranchers, and Pastor Kakande Ministries, the minister argued “will work side by side with the NAGRC and Data Bank to improve the genetics in the county with the ultimate aim of availing them at affordable costs to the farmers in the vicinity.”
Ms Lowila Oketayot (Pader District Woman MP) who chairs Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture, described the scheme as unacceptable.
“That would be unforgivably unfortunate if they go ahead with the plan because as a committee, we advise government on policy. So Parliament’s input cannot be skipped in such an important process. They cannot just wake up and start giving out ranches without even consulting us. It is unacceptable,” she told Daily Monitor by telephone on Friday.
On March 14, public policy and accountability activist, Mr Godber Tumushabe, the Associate Director of Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, petitioned the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, raising the red flag on what he called “a case of grand white collar corruption orchestrated by Minister Vincent Ssempijja and W.W. Kifudde.”
In 2001, Parliament enacted the Animal Breeding Act 2001, establishing NAGRCDB and all land belonging to government of Uganda ranches was placed under the custody of this organisation to hold it in trust for the citizens of Uganda who are the principal beneficiaries of the work undertaken by NAGRCDB.
“It is trite law that land vested in public sector agencies like NAGRCDB is public land that government holds in trust for the people of Uganda and any attempt to alienate by sale or lease, without securing authority of Parliament, which is the guarantor of this trust, is tantamount to abuse of public trust,” Mr Tumushabe averred in his petition.
Ironically, whereas minister Ssempijja argues that the ranches are redundant and therefore should be taken over by private actors, President Museveni and NRM’s 2016 election campaign manifesto themed: ‘Taking Uganda to modernity through job creation and inclusive development’, boasts of restocking the same ranches as one of its outstanding achievements in the agriculture sector.
On page 93, the manifesto claims: “The following achievements have been registered; Maruzi and Aswa ranches were rehabilitated and restocked with over 1,500 breed-able head of cattle.”
About Aswa Ranch
The beef ranch is located in Pader District and was set up in the 1960s and was run by the Uganda Livestock Industries, a government parastatal. The ranch was economically vibrant in 1960s and was known for production of exotic dairy cattle. It had more than 30,000 head of cattle, including other livestock. But the livestock was looted during the war that pitted the then National Resistance Army (NRA) against various rebel groups.
About Nshaara Ranch
The ranch is located in Nyabushozi County, Mbarara District, about 53kms from Mbarara Town on the Mbarara-Masaka highway. It is close to the milk sheds of Masaka, Bushenyi and Mbarara where farmers can benefit from improved stock raised on the ranch. It lies in the cattle corridor can significantly contribute to provision of improved livestock for meat production. It lies in a “rain-shadow area” with annual average rainfall of 500mm, which is bimodal in distribution. The mean monthly minimum and maximum temperatures are 14°c and 231°c respectively.
The total farm area is about 6000ha and has a carrying capacity of 2ha per Livestock Unit, the farm can graze 3,000 livestock unit compared to the current 1617 livestock unit on the farm.
Current herd Structure
The total farm area is about 6000ha and has a carrying capacity of 2.0ha per livestock unit, the farm can graze 3,000 livestock unit.
Currently, the farm grazes 1,617 livestock unit, which is about 60 per cent of the carrying capacity. There is need for restocking of the farm.
“This case represents a consistent pattern of officially sanctioned grabbing of public land and property that is increasingly becoming the pillar of white collar corruption in the country. In his letter, Mr Ssempijja even purports to give orders to the office of the Solicitor General to legitimise this illegality,”
Mr Godber Tumushabe, the Associate Director, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies.
“We expect that all these entities/individuals shall complement our sector’s effort to accelerate the National Livestock Breeding Programmes in order to meet our national objective of increasing production, productivity and household income. This will enable us utilise the land which is now redundant without losing it as these farming entities will be holding it on our behalf,”
Mr Vincent Ssempijja, Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.