New twist as Solicitor General distances self from coffee deal

Finance minister Matia Kasaija (2nd left) exchanges documents with Ms Enrica Pinetti (left) after signing an agreement with the Finance ministry to establish a coffee processing plant in Uganda, on February 10. PHOTO/File

What you need to know:

  • Whereas the Attorney General owned the agreement, the Solicitor General, who has the authority to review and clear contracts and any other agreements, says he has not seen the controversial coffee agreement.

Budadiri West MP Nandala Mafabi has slammed the government for flouting procedures after the Solicitor General (SG) distanced himself from a controversial coffee processing agreement.
Mr Mafabi, who is also the chairperson of Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU) —started by coffee farmers in 1954, says the revelation adds a new twist to what looks set to be a long drawn-out saga.

On February 10, Finance Minister Matia Kasaija signed an exclusive coffee processing contract with Ms Enrica Pinetti, the owner of Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited (UVCC). 
The contents of the agreement—witnessed by Mr Ramathan Ggoobi (Secretary to the Treasury) and Mr Moses Matovu (UVCC company secretary)—were recently exclusively unfurled in Sunday Monitor.
Whereas the Attorney General (AG) Kiwanuka Kiryowa owned the agreement, SG Francis Atoke distanced himself from the agreement.

“I have never seen it. I have not seen it. It is a straight answer,” Mr Atoke said in a telephone interview.


But Mr Kiryowa said he cleared the agreement. 
Article 119 of the Constitution mandates the AG to opine in respect of all contracts, agreements, treaties, conventions to which the government is a party.
The authority to review and clear contracts and any other agreements is, however, exercised by the SG in accordance with Section 29 of the Interpretation Act. 
The law essentially empowers the SG to perform the functions of the AG.

The SG is the top technocrat in the Office of the AG. The AG—a transient political appointee—relies on the in-house legal expertise in the Office of the AG.
The coffee processing agreement followed marathon steps taken by the government, including amending the Coffee Act and withdrawing from the International Coffee Organisation.
“By nature, that is a strong agreement, which should have an input of the Solicitor General. We are not aware his office knows about it. It is null and void,” Mr Mafabi, an accountant and lawyer, said. 
He added: “But even if he had been consulted, where is the coffee owned by government? Where is the Italian coffee farm [in Uganda]? Are we removing liberalisation? Why do you want to make Ugandans slaves?”
Mr Mafabi said since coffee farmers “are not government employees”, they cannot be forced into an agreement that is untenable.

He added: “If you force me to do anything I don’t want, I can cut down the coffee. What will you do to me?”
Responding to the AG, who said Ugandan investors can be accorded the same concessions as given to UVCC, Mr Mafabi—a coffee farmer—said thus: “If you are giving exemptions, give everybody…Just make a policy in Parliament and say all coffee farmers are entitled to this.”
He termed as “insane” the Finance ministry’s decision to exclude the Trade and Agriculture ministries while putting together the coffee processing agreement. 
Agriculture minister Frank Tumwebaze revealed this past week that his ministry was not “party/privy to [the coffee processing] agreement.”

Mr Kiryowa told Sunday Monitor that the agreement is aimed at luring more investors. He said the generous concessions given to Ms Pinetti can even be offered to a Ugandan.
Former Vison Group chief executive officer Robert Kabushenga, also a coffee farmer, however, believes the concessions handed to Ms Pinetti essentially create a foreign monopoly buyer, who will set her own prices.
“We, coffee farmers, have been betrayed and sold out. This was never about us adding value. The coffee sector has been mortgaged to foreigners. The compradors no longer hide,” Mr Kabushenga told NTV Uganda’s premier political talk show, On the Spot.
On Tuesday, Ms Anita Among—the Speaker of Parliament—directed the Committee on Trade, Tourism and Industry to analyse the contentious coffee agreement.

Background
Key facts
●   Agreement signed on February 10.
●   UVCC is registered and located at Plot 2, Summit View in Kololo.
●   UVCC was given free land in the Industrial and Business Park at Namanve.
●   UVCC is given exclusive rights to buy all Uganda’s coffee.
●   UVCC will not be eligible to pay any form of tax until 2032.
●   UVCC shall be entitled to all tax exemptions available under the laws of Uganda.
●   The exemptions are applicable to all the activities of the company and its foreign staff.
●   No import duties, VAT, excise duty, stamp duty, corporate income tax and employment-related taxes.
 

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