MPs turn the heat on defiant coffee investor and lawyer

Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited Company Secretary Moses Matovu takes oath while appearing before the trade committee at Parliament on April 25, 2022. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA 

What you need to know:

  • The legislators accuse Mr Moses Matovu of inconsistent information.

The Criminal Investigations Department at Parliament yesterday escorted the secretary of the Vinci Uganda Coffee Company Limited out of the committee of trade, tourism and industries after he refused to present a feasibility study report.

Mr Moses Matovu had appeared before the committee to defend the company and explain their role in the deal that caused controversies. 

The committee chairperson, Mr Mwine Mpaka, asked Mr Matovu to present a copy of the feasibility study several times, which he declined, noting that the documents are confidential.
Mr Mpaka gave later gave the official two hours to present the documents or face the full wrath of the law.

Both the Constitution and the rules of procedure of Parliament give powers of High Court to the committee and can compel any person to surrender documents within their possession to the committee.

After the hours elapsed, Mr Mpaka handed Mr Matovu to the CIDs [of Parliament] who escorted him out of the committee meeting to record a statement, and together with the police go and search the offices of Vinci.

Prior to the handover, Mr Francis Mwijukye, the Buhweju County Member of Parliament (MP), asked Mr Matovu to take oath.

“Mr chairperson, I suggest that Matovu be forced to take an oath because he is not consistent with his statements. He must tell us the truth and that can only be guaranteed through an oath so that he takes full responsibility if he tells us lies,” Mr Mwijukye said.

Mr Mpaka later asked the clerk to the committee to administer an oath to Mr Matovu.

Mr Matovu denied all allegations against him, noting that the company had followed all the relevant procedures of reaching the agreement.

He said the company was taking a risky business venture which needed government assurance.

“The taxes you see in the agreement are not out of ordinary. When you look at the document, these are all tax exemptions provided for, but have been completely misunderstood and blown out of proportion,” he said.

Several legislators put the company secretary on sword for more than four hours over attempts to defraud the country and create a monopoly company to the disadvantage of the other sector players.

Fresh summons for Pinetti
Right from the beginning of the probe, the room was charged when it was discovered that Enrica Pinetti, the company director, was a no show for the committee hearing. Committee members raised several points of procedure against the team from the company and wanted the company secretary and other team members thrown out.

However, the committee chairperson overruled them. The committee later adjourned to 2pm to allow the team to arrange for relevant documents.

When the session resumed, Mr Matovu informed the committee that Pinetti had been summoned to appear at State House during the same period she was supposed to appear before the committee.

Mr Mpaka directed the clerk to the committee to summon her to appear in person before the committee today.

“Clerk, please write to Enrica Pinetti to appear before this committee tomorrow (today) without fail,” he said.

Ms Pinetti, who serves as the director of Uganda Vinci Coffee Company (UVCC), was expected to respond to questions over the ongoing controversial coffee agreement.

Part of the uproar is that Ms Pinetti is also the investor behind the stalled project of the International Specialised Hospital of Uganda (ISHU), which currently does not have a contractor on its 32-hectare piece of land at Lubowa.

The committee will have a final hearing today with respective ministers and stakeholders ahead of Thursday’s plenary sitting where Mr Mpaka will give a report on the matter to the House.

Others say
The intention of the two-day sitting, Mr Mpaka said, was for the committee to analyse the agreement, assess the implication of its tax incentives, comprehend whether it was in the interest of Ugandans or not.

Mr Abed Bwanika (Kimaanya-Kabonera Division MP, Masaka City), the main petitioner, said government has no mandate to make agreement without involving farmers. 

“Coffee in Uganda is a property of the farmers. Government does not have coffee. How can government which does not own coffee make an agreement to commit the coffee of the people of Uganda when the farmers are not involved in the agreement? They were not consulted and not aware,” he wondered. He also said the agreement discriminates against Ugandans and attempts to create a monopoly.

“I will not also be afraid to say [that the agreement is discriminating] even colour. Probably that is the reason why Pinetti is not here [at Parliament yesterday]..” Mr Bwanika asked.

During the probe, legislators went back and forth on whether to proceed in Pinetti’s absence.
“We have been having important issues that concern him/her [referring to Pinetti]. We have looked for her even when we had issues of Lubowa [hospital]. We looked for the woman or man but never found her,” Ms Oliver Koyekyenga, the Buhweju District Woman representative, said.

“We have the same problem [coffee deal] which is very serious to this country and we are looking for the person but is nowhere to be seen but is only sending representatives. It looks like this person is not taking this Parliament seriously,” she added.

Mr Gaffa Mbwatekamwa, the Igara County West MP, wondered whether it was right for the probe to continue without seeing the “invisible” witness.

The Uganda Law Society (ULS) president, Ms Pheona Wall, said anything that is in restraint of free market forces should be scrutinised.

“ The spirit of this agreement is not so much that it is giving somebody preferential treatment [but] it is what is taking away from the people of Uganda that we need to address our minds to,” Ms Wall said.

The deal

Government signed a 10-year memorandum of understanding with Vinci Uganda Coffee Company on February 10 giving it exclusive rights to buy all Ugandan coffee even before considering other players in the country.

The deal, according to documents gives the company 10 years of tax exemption, free 25 acres of land in Namanve Industrial Park valued at $2 million (Shs7.3 billion), cheaper electricity and water tariffs and a host of other benefits.

The company also asked not to pay NSSF to its employees and the government committed to undertake full tax obligations where no exemptions can be offered.