By Frank Lukwago, New Vision/NECJOGHA
Kampala, Uganda – Eight months after President Yoweri Museveni declined to assent to the Sugar Bill, 2016, the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has given the Executive a two-week ultimatum to table the Bill for reconsideration or be passed in its current form.
Kadaga’s directive followed concerns raised by the shadow trade minister and Rujumbura County Member of Parliament, Fred Turyamuhweza, about the continued shelving of the Bill, which he claimed was adversely affecting sugarcane growers.
“This Bill is long overdue. The sugarcane growers are anxious and I would like to move this House that the Bill is returned to the president in its current form in line with our rules of procedure,” Turyamuhweza said.
Attempts by state minister for finance David Bahati, who was holding fort for Government Chief Whip, Ruth Nankabirwa, to request for one month to allow ‘further consultations’ were rejected by Kadaga.
“Please understand the plight of ordinary sugarcane growers. They cannot export or sell their sugarcane, they have financial responsibilities, including paying school fees for their children,” Kadaga said.
Parliament passed the Sugar Bill, 2016 in November last year. The Bill sought to provide for the development, regulation and promotion of the sugar industry. This was to ensure that there is sustainable, diversified, harmonized, modern and competitive sugar sector.
However, the president rejected the Sugar Bill, 2016 and asked parliament to reconsider and provide for zoning of sugarcane growing and production.
In the Bill, the Government had proposed zoning of 25km between mills with not more than one mill in that zone. Out-growers in a given zone would only supply sugarcane to that one mill.
Museveni opined that because of the absence of zoning, which gives way to the entry of other small-scale players into the industry, the major sugar manufacturers have been undermined, leading to a drop in their output.
Following Museveni’s refusal to assent to the Bill, Nankabirwa requested the house for one month to allow consultations with the stakeholders. The one month requested by Nankabirwa elapsed in April this year.
The Bill has proved contentious since its tabling close to four years ago, with small-scale farmers locking horns with more established players over clauses they deemed prejudicial to their interests.
However, efforts to strike a trade-off, especially on the issue of zoning proved hard, with majority of lawmakers in support of small-scale farmers.
Museveni, however, deemed the final format of the Bill, especially on the issue of zoning grossly prejudicial to the well-established players in the sugar industry.
During a Kyankwanzi retreat of lawmakers subscribing to the National Resistance Movement in April, Museveni made his opinion clear on the matter.
“The way you (parliamentarians) are behaving, you are antagonizing our old sugar people and I do not know the relationship you have with small sugar people. Some of you have got a suspicious relationship with the small sugar people,” Museveni said.
For some time, the president has revealed his intention to encourage established players in the sugar sector to venture into production of refined sugar which is key in production of medicine.