Tea farmers, govt agree over Shs143 billion debt

Wednesday January 13 2021

Agriculture. Farmers harvest tea leaves in Kabarole District. President Museveni has overtime urged Ugandans to embrace tea farming. PHOTO ALEX ASHABA

By Robert Muhereza

About 700 tea nursery bed operators in Kigezi Sub-region have accepted to withdraw a court case they had filled against government in 2018 in the Commercial Court in Kampala demanding payment of Shs143 billion after the latter accepted to pay the money in phases.

The State minister for planning, Mr David Bahati, who is also a members of executive committee of the South Western Region Tea Nursery Bed Operators Association,  has said the parties signed a consent judgment that stipulates that the first phase of payment of Shs15 billion will be made in February.

“The consent judgment was signed on Wednesday (January 6) by the two parties. It is not true that the government has been put under pressure to pay the tea nursery bed operators because of the ongoing presidential campaigns but the final decision coincided with the campaign process.

For the last four months, President Museveni directed that the tea nursery bed operators be paid and the verification exercise to establish the actual figures supplied has just been concluded. It was important that the government pays the tea nursery bed operators,” Mr Bahati said at the weekend.

President Museveni launched tea growing enterprise in Kigezi Sub-region in 2008 and promised that government would buy all the tea seedlings supplied to farmers. 

However, in 2015, 2016 and 2017, some pPresident Museveni launched tea growing enterprise in Kigezi Sub-region in 2008 and promised that government would buy all the tea seedlings supplied to farmersrocured tea seedlings were destroyed by rains and prolonged drought.


Suing government
The government suspected that tea nursery bed operators had supplied air to farmers and declined to pay, prompting the suppliers to sue.

“Government appreciates that ever since tea growing was launched in Kigezi, the number of tea processing factories has increased from one factory in 2008 to six to date. 

“Government has accepted to pay the money being demanded by the tea nursery bed operators in a phased manner beginning with next month (February) and April this financial year and the balance shall be paid in the next financial year,” Mr Bahati added.
The chairperson of the South Western Tea nursery Bed Operators, Mr Frank Byaruhanga, thanked the government.  

“Ever since the court case was filed in the Commercial Court in Kampala several mediation meetings have been held and I am happy the government accepted to settle the matter out of court,” Mr Byaruhanga said.

He said tea nursery bed operators have gone through difficult situations because the farmers that received the tea seedlings were earning a lot of money while the suppliers were living under fear of having their mortgaged properties being taken by commercial banks and money lenders.

The chairperson of Tea Nursery Bed Operators in Kabale District, Mr Philip Zikampereza, and his Rukiga District counterpart, Mr Moses Kakuru, said although the payment delayed, it has come at the time they needed it most.

The lawyer for the aggrieved Tea Nursery Bed Operators, Mr Patrick Kiconco Katabazi, said the terms in the consent judgment were fair to both parties.

A total of 280,000 people that worked in the several tea nursery beds that were owned by about 700  operators were equally affected by the non-payment.