What you need to know:
Interview. A year ago, Mr Amos Nzeyi was appointed the honorary consul of Mauritius to Uganda. Paul Murungi recently interviewed him on Uganda’s bilateral relations with Mauritius and the concern that Ugandans are keeping money in the island country
How would you describe the relations between Uganda and Mauritius?
We have held meetings with the diplomatic desk and there are some agreements yet to be signed which we are working on in the areas of communication, expanding trade benefits, labour and the airline. We want to have freight connections between the two countries.
At high level, we are in areas of cooperation and supporting each other, government-to-government in policy. Ugandan representatives voted in favour of Mauritius during the Chagos advisory opinion presented to the UN. Chagos is an Island in the Indian Ocean that Mauritius was claiming from Britain.
Uganda exports raw cotton to Mauritius and last year we exported cotton worth $6 million (Shs22b), which is a good beginning. Mauritius has an advanced textile industry. Global textile companies have branches on the island and employ a huge percentage of the population. We can tap such knowledge and expertise and bring it here in Uganda.
What opportunities can Ugandans seize in Mauritius?
There are a lot of opportunities in the areas of education, ICT and tourism. The universities are good and are linked with the UK, American and Indian curriculums. We have Ugandan students in Mauritius on full scholarships and a number of privately sponsored students.
We intend to benefit from their advancement in ICT and do exchange programmes for students. We are in touch with some Ugandan universities to give our students exposure and experience.
I want to connect Mauritius tourism with that of Uganda. Mauritius has got the highest number of tourists in the region. It has got two 380 Airbuses, the biggest passenger plane in the world that arrives every day in the morning. In the whole of Africa, Morocco and South Africa are some of the other countries where it lands.
We can attract wealthy tourists from Mauritius to Uganda to enjoy great safaris. If we can tap into their tourism, then we will earn heavy foreign exchange and expand foreign direct investment. We shall work with tour operators and security to make it possible.
What opportunities does Mauritius see in Uganda and how are they harnessing them?
Ugandans are travelling more than ever, be it for holidays, studies and business. Mauritius wants these Ugandans to consider it as part of their destination. Recently, the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority had an expo in Uganda at the Kampala Serena Hotel.
Mauritians are advanced in processing white sugar. They promised to visit our sugar factories.
I have persuaded them to come and process white sugar from here and save beverage manufacturers billions they spend to import it.
Mauritius is seen as a tax haven where some Ugandans who want to avoid taxes take their companies and businesses. What’s your take on this?
Mauritius is a financial sector-oriented economy with offshore banking. Their banking sector is rated highest in capital at $7 billion.
Offshore accounts involve money where an individual goes to Mauritius, opens up a company and injects in money. Then, their banks will keep your money without taxation, when you want to take it, you are free. So that’s why they call those financial countries with offshore facilities tax havens because there’s no taxation and you have to have a license to be able to that. They are recognised in the whole world, even Japanese invest in Mauritius. It is a well-known hub for the financial sector.
Are you in defence of Ugandans having offshore accounts in Mauritius?
If Ugandans don’t take it to Mauritius, they will take it elsewhere. Mauritius is not the only offshore country. There are many other places in the world and they are growing in numbers. We have Bermuda, Hong Kong and many others.
If I may give you an example, if [US business magnate] Bill Gates was to have his money in a commercial bank, whereby they keep chopping it off, how much money would he have? It has to be kept somewhere safe, whereby he also has a bargain and will not be charged every time.
Otherwise if Bill Gates brought his money to a commercial bank in Uganda, then he has no control over it, because it’s a lot of money and it needs to have watertight security to keep it safe. He has been able to make it; he doesn’t want to lose it.
The rich want to make sure their money is safe. Those are people who keep money in those institutions because if you have little money, why do you take it there? You can trade it in Uganda.
A man like me cannot open an offshore account because I have to buy sugar, crates and vehicles for my beverage business.
If Ugandans have a lot of money, yes, they need to keep their money safe. Because then we won’t have cases when banks are closed because of issues like capital.
If a Ugandan opens up an offshore account, doesn’t it affect the economy, especially by losing taxes?
The percentage is negligible for Ugandans who can open an offshore account. I doubt whether it reaches three per cent. If you are talking about Kenyans, Nigerians, South Africans and Egyptians who have money, then yes. But I know my fellow Ugandans, I doubt if they have the money to open an offshore account.
There are very many factors that drive and steer the economy. All these factors have their share and having an offshore account is basically managing their finances.