Coffee twist shows need to address asymmetries

The 11th parliament scored a remarkable triumph when it red flagged an agreement the government of Uganda (GoU) entered into with Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited (UVCC) to process the country’s green beans.
While it would be a stretch to say that the GoU has been commendably candid about its mistakes, the House made a vital impression by vetoing actions of the Executive deemed unpalatable—at least by the vast bulk of stakeholders the trade committee engaged.

Tectonic forces were expected to still be at work even after—or in fact because—Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka said that the GoU will review the recommendations “and report back to [the House] on the action taken.” Media reports now indicate that the GoU’s executive branch will push for piecemeal and not wholesale changes to the agreement. This will possibly herald friction between the two arms of the GoU (executive and legislature). We believe such an outcome should be seen as healthy if only one arm doesn’t stampede the other into anything.

In the run-up to the tabling of the report, the actions of the House’s top brass were rarely memorable. There was unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation when the report was—on multiple occasions—conspicuously absent from the order paper. After it was finally tabled, Speaker Anita Among addressed herself to the sum of all fears that the House leadership had been compromised. She reasoned that there was no likelihood of this happening because “you don’t have needy presiding officers.”
We commend the House for the searing clarity it used to untangle the chaotic diversity of competing interests in the coffee deal.

The decision by half a dozen members of the parliamentary trade committee to run everything down to the smallest details with President Museveni will, however, be a stain on its conscience. That this was days before the tabling of the report simply compounds matters. It draws attention to the fact that the doctrine of separation of powers—call it checks and balances—is nominal.

We depart from those that frame this as a hiccup and not insurmountable challenge. Since absolute power teems with countless unpleasant possibilities, more urgency and resources have to be allocated to the actualisation of checks and balances. The enthusiasm for a sweeping assault on the executive (read presidency) should arouse us all especially after what Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa revealed at the start of this workweek.

Mr Tayebwa tweeted thus: “What I can confirm to you is that no body (sic) is going to take away your coffee. We had a meeting with [President Museveni] and agreed to change a few things in that controversial coffee agreement. The president shall soon give the nation an update regarding the same matter.”

His revelation is hardly a ringing endorsement for strict adherence to the classic checks and balances that ensure that at no point can one branch of government become too powerful. It is an indication that absolute power resides at the State House. There’s a dire need to address these asymmetries.


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