UIA top boss outlines investment plans

Warehouses at Namanve park. Mr Ssebowa says there are financing problems at the investments authority. PHOTO by ISMAIL KEZAALA

What you need to know:

Investment plans. After taking nearly a year without a substantive investment prefect to oversee and carry out the institution’s mandate, Eng Frank Sebbowa was finally appointed as the Uganda Investment Authority executive director

What is the country’s major investment agenda?
There are about four of them. Agro-processing ranks up there. We are putting a lot of emphasis here because we know that is where our comparative advantage is.

Minerals are the other area we are prioritising. We are looking at refining them before exporting to other markets.
Tourism is the other sector that we are developing and we believe we could easily be the leading tourism destination in this region. We have not yet managed to exploit the tourism benefits fully but this is something we are working on because of its potential.

ICT is another sector because the educated young population can benefit immensely from investment in this sector.

How is the absence of a governing board affecting operations at UIA?
To some degree, I must admit that there are some effects but they are minimal. The UIA board is not a full time board. It meets once every four months to make policy decisions. Apparently, we still get policy directions and guidance from the ministry of finance.
On the other hand, the beauty of having the board is that issues are discussed. So the private sector components are missing in our policy guidance but we hope this will be addressed shortly.

What operational challenges is UIA grappling with?
We have challenges in financing. Our mandate is large and our resources are not enough for all our plans.

For example, developments of the industrial parks require a lot of money yet we do not get adequate financing. But we understand; because nobody gets adequate financing.

Another challenge is shortage of staff. Our staff is succumbing to greener pastures every other day. Our physical planners have gone. One of our engineers has also left. They all go to places where they are paid better.

What have you achieved since you took over?
We are proud of the one-stop centre. We are also proud that despite limited resources we are able to develop some of our industrial parks. Work at Namanve Industrial park is on-going despite the limited resources.

We are now opening up roads there, working with the government to take electricity to the major areas, fixing water and looking for investors to take up the spaces. We are back on track.

How can Ugandans capture the opportunities UIA presents?
UIA was created to look at investment projects not the owners of investments. We accept anybody as long as they are going to create jobs, bring new technology, make profits and pay their due taxes.
As long as those four are met, we do not care where the investment is coming from—and as long as it is clean investment; whether domestic or foreign, we welcome it and we are here to work for them.

Which criteria do you use to categorise either local or foreign investors?
A foreign investor by law must have an investment that is not less than $100,000 (about Shs251 million) and for the local investor it should be a range of about $50,000 (about Shs125 million).

That is the legal definition. But we go beyond that given that we support the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to get into the large investment bracket. We train them, give them support and link them to markets as well.

What are the major projects that you can single out as most successful as a result of UIA efforts?
This is a difficult question to answer. But opening of Roofing plants at Namanve was important because we contributed significantly.
If you look around that park, you will notice that Kyagalanyi coffee is up and will soon be running; Victoria seeds factories will be doing animal medicines and we think these are major achievements.

In our industrial park in Bweyogerere, UNBS is putting up new headquarters there. A hospital will also be put up there by an investor. All these we think are achievements. In Soroti, infrastructure such as roads that will enable Korean investors to build a fruit factory are being built.

In terms of large projects, we played a part in developing investments in Hoima region, especially bringing medium and small scale investors to a level where they can deal with oil companies.

That, we think, is another major achievement. Our regional workshops and fellowships with the investors are also good achievements.

As chief executive, what has been your experience so far?
This is a challenging place. For example, when a potential investor walks in, and a big one at that, you will do all that is necessary to provide information and eagerly explain all details.

But sometimes, it takes them (investors) two to three months before you hear from them and that could be frustrating. And should they come back of course, I become happy although not all of them do so. Out of maybe 10, three will come back, and that in itself is a challenge to learn to live with.

Shortage of resources cannot allow me attend an investment forum in Nairobi or anywhere within East Africa. If I to attend, I can only finance one person who will have to distribute our pamphlets. We can’t even hire a tent to showcase what Uganda has to offer because we do not have enough money for all that.

The other issue is we have not done a compressive compendium especially for the large investments.
An investor from Kuwait or Japan or a guy from Washington may be interested in big projects and we must be in position to give it to them.

We are now working backwards to get a one-page or two-page description from the various government agencies and various sources so that when an investor asks we can at least give a project title, a definition of what it entails and also have a rough estimate of what the project could cost, where it can be found and which individual to contact.
Developing such a conducive compendium will cost us a lot of money. On SMEs, we already have such information on CDs with 230 projects. So, I now want to develop about 100 more but on only big projects.

“... Our mandate is large yet our resources are not enough for all our plans. For example developments of the industrial parks require a lot of money yet we do not get adequate financing. But we understand because nobody gets adequate financing,” Frank Ssebowa, UIA executive director