The minister for Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Hon. Matia Kasaija, was a no show in the parliamentary committee investigating circumstances surrounding the controversial Coffee Agreement recently signed between government and Vinci Coffee Company.
Kasaija was expected to appear before the committee on Trade and Industry today to explain how he committed government in a deal that gives a single company exclusive rights to buy the country’s coffee and is seen as being unfair for local exporters.
Speaking after the meeting, the last of stakeholder interactions and investigations that started this week, the committee chairperson Mwine Mpaka accused Kasaija for adamantly refusing to appear before the MPs, an act which tantamount to contempt of parliament.
“Since he has refused not to show up, in our recommendations, we are going to hold him in contempt of parliament and make all the necessary recommendations.” Mwine Mpaka said ruling out the committee giving Kasaija a second chance since this is the second time he is snubbing the summons over the same matter.
Acting on a directive by the speaker Anita Among, the committee yesterday expected to also interface with the Italian investor behind Vinci, Enrica Pinetti, but she too never showed up. The company secretary who represented the company in the interaction was handed over to CID over failure to provide the necessary information about the deal.
Under the agreement, which also exempts Uganda Vinci from all taxes, the company will create the first final product processing plant in the country worth $80 million. The deal is seen a key part of the government’s efforts to more than double coffee production to 20 million bags annually by 2030.
However, the deal signed between the Finance Ministry and Uganda Vinci prohibits anybody from buying the country’s harvest until Vinci company gets the quota they want. The minister is also blamed for the failure to consult stakeholders in the coffee sector and went ahead to sign on their behalf.
Now, without the input of the finance minister and the Italian investor -the key individuals behind the controversial deal, the probe may not yield much but Mpaka says the process will be followed to the tail end.
“We have received the documents so we can process ex-parte since he has decided not to show up because today we have been in the meeting only to find him in the canteen eating chicken, yet he was supposed to be in the committee.” he stated.
Besides the ministry of finance and Vinci, the committee had invited 19 other stakeholders in Uganda’s coffee industry including the Ministry of Agriculture, Uganda Coffee Development Authority, Uganda Coffee Quality Traders Association, Uganda Coffee Federation, Uganda Cooperative Union, Bugisu Cooperative Union, Ankole Coffee Cooperative Union, UNZO coffee, Uganda large scale farmers Association, BUCADEF, KAWACOM, ESCO (U) Ltd, and OLAM (U) Ltd. Of Kasaija, the minister for agriculture did not appear before the committee.
A visibly unhappy Mpaka said what is left now is for committee members to append signatures on the report before it is tabled on the floor of parliament on Thursday.
Moments later, Minister Kasaija showed up from the parliament canteen but said he was not aware of the committee proceedings nor was he invited.
“I was not informed at all. Show me the letter inviting me to the committee. Do I have to smell that there is a committee where I have been invited?” Kasaija said insisting that the deal with Vinci is the best and he signed it looking for value addition for Uganda’s coffee.
Several lawmakers this website spoke to are calling for the cancellation of a government deal and want Minister Kasaija to be reprimanded for signing the “bogus” agreement.
According to the rules of procedure that guide parliamentary proceedings, parliament can move a censure motion against any government minister found guilty of contempt of parliament.
Last week, Kasambya County MP David Kabanda revealed that the censure motion under rule 109 of parliament’s rules of procedure is being considered against Kasaija.
“The motion is citing incompetence, the Lubowa Hospital botched deal, the coffee agreement, issues relating to Entebbe airport, and usurping Parliament’s mandate of appropriation,” he said.