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Cosase wants Kamya, Kasaija punished over Shs10b saga

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Parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) has ordered for an inquest and possible prosecution of ombudsman Beti Kamya and Finance minister Matia Kasaija.

The two government officials have been red flagged for “illegally clearing” the release of Shs10.6b that was paid to ghost claimants in 2020.

The Cosase report that was presented to the House on Thursday, also recommends that Mr Patrick Ocailap, the Deputy Secretary to Treasury, be “punished” for not thoroughly scrutinising the request for the release of the money.

Mr Ocailap was deemed to be at fault because he was acting on behalf of the then Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Keith Muhakanizi, who was at the time out of the country.

“Mr Matia Kasaija, Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, and Mr Patrick Ocailap, the Deputy Permanent  Secretary and Secretary to the Treasury, should be investigated for their role in the Shs10.6b supplementary process,” the report, which also pins officials from Uganda Land Commission (ULC), reads in part, adding in another passage; “Management admitted that although the…supplementary was received and spent by ULC, the Commission did not initiate the request for the said money.”

Finance minister Matia Kasaija appears before Cosase on May 31, 2022.

It further revealed that Ms Beatrice Byenkya, the ULC chairperson, informed Cosase that she was never “consulted at all regarding the request for the supplementary budget, and neither was the Commission.”

ULC officials were also faulted for “conniving” with lawyer Richard Buzibira to forge court documents in regard to compensation.

“The lawyers from Lubega, Buzibira and Company Advocates should be prosecuted for aiding the fraudulent transaction,” the report states, adding, “Disciplinary action should be taken against Denis Kahabura, the registrar of Kibaale, for issuing a title based on forged documents.”

The crux of the matter was that the Shs10.6b release was effected by the Finance ministry following a request of Ms Kamya in her capacity as Lands minister at the time.

Cosase revealed that—without providing proof—the sidestepping of the ULC was informed by “a presidential directive.”

The report was stinging in its recommendation of punishments for ULC officials deemed to be in cahoots.

“Ms Barbara Imaryo, the then accounting officer, and Mr Siraje Isabirye, the head of accounts, should be prosecuted in regard to the ghost payments in the supplementary,” the report reads.

It adds: “Uganda police should work alongside Interpol to have Barbara Imaryo brought back into the country to face prosecution.”

During its investigations, the Committee also established that the entity is under staffed, besides the high staff turnover challenges stifling work at the entity.

“The Committee was concerned that ULC has no legal department despite the need for frequent legal advice and the high number of litigation cases. The top management has officers in acting capacity, while a number of lower staff are missing,” the report discovered.

Specifically, it was established that the “staff approved structure is 75; however, only 33 are in post and 42 positions are vacant. This indicates a staff workforce of 44 percent available to execute the Commission mandate.”

Legislators were also dismayed to learn that “there is a high turnover of accounting officers. For instance, within five years, the Commission—the report spelt out—“had four different accounting officers.”

Ombudsman Kamya’s troubles stemmed from the Auditor General’s report of Financial Year 2020/2021 that unearthed the ghost claimants compensated by the ULC.

Attempts by Sunday Monitor to get a comment from the ombudsman about recommendations of the report proved futile by press time. The Finance minister, meanwhile, told us “they are most welcome to investigate. That’s all I can say.”

Original Source: Daily Monitor

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Kikuube residents say Museveni misled on Kyangwali land.

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President Museveni and Land Commission chairperson Catherine Bamugemereire in Lusanja, Nangabo Subcounty in Wakiso District settling a land dispute. Several cases have cropped up across the country.

Kyangwali , Uganda.The more than 1,000 people evicted from their ancestral land in Kyangwali sub-county in Kikuube district are protesting a letter authored by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni referring to them as liars who want to steal government land.

The residents who have pitched camp at the office of the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner-RDC since February state that they are the genuine owners of over 36 square kilometres of land which is now under dispute between them and the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. They are mainly women and children who were evicted from the villages of Bukinda, Kavule, Kyeya, Bwizibwera Nyaruhanga, Kabirizi, Nyamigisa and Katoma among others, in the Kyangwali sub-county.

In a letter dated July 17, 2022, President Museveni referred to the evicted residents as liars who want to steal government land. In the letter addressed to Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, President Museveni stated that he got a report from Brigadier Henry Isoke of the State House Anti-corruption Unit indicating that the Kingdom of Bunyoro Kitara donated 60 square miles of land in 1960 for the purpose of helping the refugees and foreigners coming to Bunyoro.

He added that back then, very few Banyoro and Batoro were in the area adding that most of the claimants are liars. He says that some years ago, former Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda proposed a soft landing to deduct 10 square miles from the government land to settle the residents. The arrangement would give eight square miles to the ones from far away and two square miles to the indigenous Banyoro and Batooro with each family getting 2.5 acres.

He has directed the Prime Minister to order the evictees to accept the 2.5 acres ex-gratia allocated to each family or they forfeit even that one and stop disturbing public peace with their lies. According to Museveni, it is not good to get in the habit of stealing government land or falsely claiming other peoples’ land.

But the aggrieved residents say that the president is being misled about the conflict adding that most of the people he sends on fact-finding missions about the land go to the area when they are already compromised and feed him with wrong information.

Laurencio Tibesigwa, 70, one of the affected residents explains that his grandparents settled on the land in the 1950s, long before the said acquisition by the government and wonders how the government came to acquire the same land. He demands that the president visits the area to establish the truth about the said land.

Justine Kusiima, 73, another of the residents says that people who have been sent by the president to investigate the conflict have fed him with wrong information adding that only the president can get the correct information about the land in question.

Staratori Mutagamba, 65, also a resident on the contested land says that the president’s letter has reignited the untold suffering they have gone through for the past 13 years yet they thought that he who would be their saviour and resettle them on their ancestral land.

Officials from the settlement and the Office of the Prime Minister have been feuding with the residents since 2013 over the ownership of the land in question. In September 2013, the officials from the Office of the Prime Minister backed by the police and UPDF evicted more than 60,000 people from the contested land and resettled Congolese refugees on the land.

The residents were forced to settle in camps in Kyeya village in Kyangwali sub-county under very poor conditions where they have stayed to date. In 2016 and 2018, President Museveni ordered that the evicted residents be resettled on their ancestral land.

In October 2021, Prime Minister Nabbanja halted all the activities by her office on the contested land.   This was during her visit to the area to assess the condition of the evictees where she discovered that some officials from the OPM and Kyangwali refugee settlement area had connived to erect structures for refugees on the contested land, planted crops like beans, maize, cassava, bananas and groundnuts among others.

According to Nabbanja, this could be a move by some OPM and Kyangwali refugee settlement area officials to fraudulently grab the land from locals neighbouring the settlement. She ordered the Minister for disaster preparedness, the Camp commandant of Kyangwali refugee’s settlement area, Kikuube District Police commander-DPC and Resident district commissioner-RDC to ensure that no more activity takes place on the contested land until investigations into the wrangles are completed.

Source: The Independent

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Atiak sugarcane out-growers seek pay

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On Monday, the farmers under Atiak Sugar Outgrowers’ Cooperative Scheme told journalists in Gulu City that they had also petitioned Parliament over the matter.

It is established that the claimants, who are also Lord’s Resistance Army war victims, renewed their pay demands recently when they discovered that the company closed Atiak sugar factory in Amuru District a few months after it received a Shs108b bailout from the government.

Ms Rosemary Achan, one of their leaders, said each of them demands the company Shs25m for the three years.

“This time we will do all it takes to get that money because we understand that the government gave them money to pay us, but unfortunately, they have shut down the factory,” she said.

“Initially, they told us that we would be paid in the second year of the work after the canes matured but the time passed and since then, they have been dodging us,”  she added.

This newspaper established that the victims were each assigned five acres of sugarcane to manage and would be paid Shs25m per year.

Mr Patrick Poly Okin Ojara, the Chwa MP, said they are preparing another petition for the Inspectorate of Government to investigate the firm and ensure that the funds are properly accounted for.

“The company and Naads came to Parliament last year for a supplementary budget and after they were granted the Shs108b, they decided to close the factory yet part of that money was meant to pay the pending wages of these victims,” Mr Okin said.

Mr Gilbert Olanya, the Kilak MP, said they cannot allow the government to continue spending billions of shillings on a factory that is keeping thousands of people jobless.  The government owns 44 percent of shares in the factory.

However, Mahmood Abdi Ahmed, the company’s director for plantation and agriculture, dismissed the claims of non-payment.

“If they claim they were not paid, the best people to comment on the matter are the chairpersons of the two cooperatives under which the claimants fall,”  Mr Mahmood said.

“We got funding from the government to plant the canes, and there is no employee who worked for us and was never paid, including the outgrowers whose money was channelled through the cooperatives’ leadership,” he added.

But Ms Joyce Laker, the chairperson of Atiak Outgrowers Cooperative Society, said the company only paid them for the seed canes and that money was given to the members directly not through the cooperatives between 2019 and 2020.

“The money we received was for the seed canes and most of it was deducted for the membership fees and annual subscription of the more than 2,000 members in our association,” Ms Laker said.

“[A total of] 182 members were paid. The rest of the unpaid members’ concerns can only be answered by the company,” she added.

Original Source: Dialy Monitor

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Why Atiak Sugar Project is not firing on all cylinders.

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Photo Credit: Daily Monitor.

Ms Amina Hershi, the chief executive officer of Horyal Investment Ltd, displays some of  the bags of sugar produced at Atyak Sugar Factory in Amuru District recently.

Atiak Sugar Limited is battling an acute shortage of sugarcane to supply the multi-billion sugar factory located in Atiak Sub-county, Amuru District. The vast bulk of its sugarcane plantations in both Amuru and Lamwo districts were ravaged by suspected arson attacks from alleged aggrieved members of two separate outgrowers societies.

The Atiak Sugar Project is still being spoken of in the present tense. It is essentially a public-private-community partnership between the National Agriculture Advisory Services (Naads), participating farmer cooperatives and respective local governments of Amuru, Lamwo and Horyal Investment Holdings Ltd.

The first bags of sugar from Horyal Investment Ltd’s multi-billion investment in the post-conflict north hit the streets of Gulu City once President Museveni commissioned the factory on October 22, 2020. The factory was initially meant to provide a ready market for the sugarcane outgrowers in the region where sugar production has already begun.

Under the partnership, the community under Atiak Outgrowers and Gem-pachilo Cooperative Societies are to plant cane on the land and weed the plantations. Once the cane is ready, the plantation—apportioned to the outgrowers by Naads—would be harvested and sold to the factory.

At its inception, the project targeted to cover 13,841 acres at the main plantation at Atiak in Amuru District. An expansion of 15,000 acres was, however, later made in Ayu-alali, Palabek Kal Sub-county, Lamwo District, in 2020. A further expansion of 31,159 acres is planned and is being established in Palabek-ogili, Lamwo District, bringing the total acreage to 60,000.

In September 2020, before its commissioning, Ms Amina Hershi, the chief executive officer of Horyal Investment Ltd, told a delegation of government officials that 3,000 acres of sugarcane were ready for supply to the factory to begin its maiden production. This section of the plantation belonged to Gem Pachilo and Atiak Outgrowers Cooperative Societies, she revealed, adding, “…we also now produce 6 MWh of electricity to the national grid, which is generated through biogas from the bi-products of the cane.”

At this point, the plant was, according to Ms Hershi, only waiting for calibration by the International Organisation for Standardisation to ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of products, services, and systems.

Two years later, however, Saturday Monitor has learnt that simultaneous incidents of fire outbreaks that ravaged hundreds of hectares of the plantation appear to cast a dark shadow on the potential of the factory.

Outgrowers and the factory’s management accounts have indicated that since 2017, wildfires have gutted hundreds of hectares of the sugar plantation in the dry season. The burnt portions were usually canes that were nearing harvest or ready for harvest. We also understand that the portions burnt by the fire were always those owned by the outgrowers. These were not insured against fire, damages, or any other risks.

Late last month, the proprietors of the factory said sugar production had been suspended after cane supply to the factory hit rock bottom. According to the company, the suspension comes in the aftermath of wildfires that have in previous months destroyed the sugarcane plantation.

Mr Mahmood Abdi Ahmed, the company’s director for plantation and agriculture, told Saturday Monitor that production had drastically slowed down. He, however, hastened to add that operations haven’t been suspended as a result of the acute shortage of canes.

“The biggest challenge we have had is the gaps in our structural planning relating to the sugarcane production, and this failure is blamed on all of us the stakeholders,” Mr Mahmood said in an interview, adding, “The land (customary) ownership setup in the Acholi area has served a really big disadvantage to sugarcane growing because you don’t see people growing sugarcane on subsistence basis as we see in other regions producing sugar.”

According to him, in areas such as Busoga and Bunyoro sub-regions, “you find people growing sugarcane everywhere because the land is not communally owned and individuals decide on their own whether to grow sugarcane. But the communal ownership disfavours this, and this is one challenge we did not foresee.”

He also said the lack of associated amenities such as roads and urban trading centres where interested labour (workers) can reside has exacerbated things.

“The road infrastructure in communities here is still poor to boost sugarcane production,” he said, adding, “Even if communities grew these canes, the road networks are still underdeveloped to ease transportation of the canes.”

 The company also lacks the infrastructure and human resources to deploy in sugarcane production. For example, Atiak Town Council or Elegu Town Council— the nearest trading centre—is 25km away from the factory, making transportation of the labour force over the distance a huge daily burden.

A fortnight ago, Ms Hersi told the media that the factory was temporarily suspending operations. According to her, the factory’s biggest problem was the lack of canes to supply the plant to produce sugar. She was, however, quick to add that the plantation would resume production once canes in Ayu-alali plantation in Palabek-kal Sub-county, Lamwo District, mature between July and August.

Sabotage galore

Ms Joyce Laker, the chairperson of Atiak Outgrowers Cooperative Society, however recently revealed that they were disappointed that Naads refused to pay their members.

During a public gathering at the factory, Ms Laker described the wildfires that swept across the plantations as deliberate sabotage. She also called for the government’s intervention after revealing that discontented cooperative members have openly threatened to continue burning down the sugar plantation until their grievances are settled.

“I will say it without shame…,” she stated. “…there are issues which the government has to come in and settle because at one point, in a meeting, some people said if these issues are not resolved, the sugarcane will continue getting burnt down.”

The longstanding dispute between the sugarcane outgrowers and the management of the sugar factory did not only delay the commencement of sugar production. Saturday Monitor also understands that the dispute has reportedly caused persistent and deliberate burning of the canes.

Ms Laker said the finger of blame can also be pointed elsewhere.

She referred specifically to the 2017 incident when Naads cut down more than 160 acres of sugarcane plantations belonging to Atiak Outgrowers and Gem-pachilo cooperative societies.

Saturday Monitor has established that the outgrowers are yet to be paid. We have also established that there are several instances of tension between the outgrowers, Horyal Investment Ltd and Naads over royalties and accumulated payments for canes cut and served to the factory.

Before President Museveni launched the factory in October 2020, the farm could not initialise sugar production for nearly eight months. This was due to the failure of the government to compensate two cooperatives for the sugarcane supplied to the factory.

Ms Grace Kwiyocwiny, the State Minister for Northern Uganda, told Saturday Monitor that roundtable talks between the leadership of the factory and the cooperative members are in the offing.

“We should protect all the little developments that are coming up in our region because all developments are supported by communities,” she said, adding, “I want to … come and meet with the leaders of the community because of the sugar [cane] that is continuously burning down.”

Earlier in March, when this newspaper visited the facility, the factory remained closed to production due to supply chain issues (shortage of cane). A perfect storm—including the pandemic, suspected arson attacks and insufficient production of canes by plantations in both Amuru and Lamwo districts—has contrived to create supply chain problems.

No respite from the east

In January 2021, Horyal Investment Ltd started sourcing its cane from the Busoga Sub-region. Sugarcane farmers in Busoga Sub-region, under the Greater Busoga Sugarcane Farmers’ Union (GBSGU), last month signed a memorandum of understanding with Atiak Sugar Factory to supply cane for six months. Under the arrangement, the government shall intervene by subsidising the transport costs and also avail fueled trucks to ferry the cane.

Inside sources have, however, told Saturday Monitor that the arrangement looks to have fallen flat on its face. The cost the investor incurred in transporting a truckload of canes is six times higher than what it paid for canes alone. A source who did not want to be named said while a truckload of canes fetched approximately Shs200,000, it costs between Shs800,000 to Shs1m to transport the consignment.

“They failed to sustain that arrangement because it was very expensive and the company realised it was sinking in losses to that effect; although the costs were being shared between the investor and Naads,” our source revealed.

Mr Michael Lakony, the Amuru District chairperson, fears that the suspension of the sugar production will destroy livelihoods in the sub-region.

“Hundreds of workers, including young men and women from the district here have been rendered jobless,” he told us in an interview, adding, “If the company wants to gain from the factory, it should get serious other than politicking.”

Mr Lakony added that because the government was allegedly not serious about streamlining the impasse and ensuring that Horyal Investments Ltd respects its terms in dealing with the outgrowers, the investor could continue grappling with suspicious fires.

“The plantations keep getting burnt because it is owned by no one and that means nobody cares, and if nobody cares, no one takes interest in taking care of it, including the neighbours because benefits in terms of payments to the out-growers are not being met,” he said.

Mechanisation drive

To address the challenge of labour deficiency and lack of funds to establish low-cost housing facilities in the factory to accommodate workers, Mr Mahmood said they are moving towards mechanising production.

“We don’t have the financing to build accommodation facilities to house thousands of workers who we would need to work on the plantation daily,” he told Saturday Monitor, adding, “Instead, we are strategising to focus on mechanising our production using the limited resources at our disposal now.”

He further revealed that they have procured a new fleet of sugarcane planters, weeders and harvesters due to arrive at the back-end of this year.

“The machines, we believe, are more efficient and can do much more work compared to human labour and that will solve the puzzle,” he noted.

Although Mr Mahmood did not disclose the source of the funding, in a separate interview, Mr Lakony—the Amuru LC5 chairperson—said the company had been granted a Shs108 billion bailout by the government for mechanising production.

“We had a meeting with the management as a district and also shareholders and the latest update is that the government has allocated Shs108 billion to the company through UDC [Uganda Development Corporation],” Mr Lakony said, adding, “The plan is to leave rudimental and turn to mechanised production. Instead of using human labour, they want to use machines.”

A fraction of the same funds will also be used to establish an irrigation system on River Unyama that cuts through the sugar plantation to help in irrigating the canes during the dry season when immature and young canes dry and die out, Mr Lakony added.

Saturday Monitor understands the Shs108 billion is the same funding thrown out by Parliament’s Budget Committee last November. This was after the investor made a supplementary budget request to finance production. The request tabled by junior Trade minister David Bahati, and backed by the UDC’s top brass, failed to convince the lawmakers, who in turn sent them away.

The MPs declined to endorse Ms Hersi’s request to the government, reasoning that there was a need for proof that her investment was making a substantial contribution to the economy. The MPs instead demanded a forensic audit into how she has spent more than Shs120 billion received from the government. Similar financial requests were made by the Atiak Sugar leadership to the 10th Parliament, but most of them were rejected, although it later emerged that they were, nevertheless, granted.

Some of the fire incidents at Atiak Sugar project

In 2016, a fire caused an estimated loss of Shs150m after it gutted 150 acres of sugarcane plantation at the factory.

In December 2018, another mysterious fire destroyed an estimated 250 acres of sugarcane at the facility.

An estimated 600 acres of sugarcane at the plantation was then burnt down in February 2019.

And in January 2021, a fire that lasted for nearly a week destroyed nearly 60 percent of the plantation after the police fire brigade fought it with little success.

Eventually, more than 600 acres of sugarcane estimated at Shs3 billion were reported to have been destroyed in the fire.

In fact, that fire in January of 2021 was the worst to ever hit the plantation. The police attributed the rapid spread of the fire to narrow fire lines that do not allow fire trucks to move in fast.

Enter January of 2022, a similar fire burnt down an estimated 3,500 acres of the sugarcane plantation.

According to Mr David Ongom Mudong, the Aswa River Region police spokesperson, the fire razed down 14 huts belonging to a Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) detachment. The soldiers, who were supposed to stand as sentinels at the plantation, watched helplessly as 250 acres were burnt down.

Background

About the factory

Atiak Sugar Factory, located at Gem Village in Pachilo Parish in Atiak Sub-county in Amuru District, is jointly owned by the Uganda and Horyal Investment Holdings Company Ltd. The latter belongs to Ms Hersi.

The factory—located 17kms north of Atiak off the Gulu-Nimule Road—is the first major investment in the region.

Lawmakers have, however, continued to question why the government’s stakes in it have remained significantly low compared to that of Horyal Investments despite the huge capital portfolio injected in the past years into the venture.

Last September, Parliament’s Committee on Trade questioned why the government—the lowest shareholder in Atiak Sugar Limited—continues to invest the most money in the factory.

The government’s shareholding in the plant has remained static at 40 percent despite an injection of more than Shs120 billion.

In May 2018, when the government injected Shs20 billion, its shareholding stood at 10 percent. In the same year, it injected another Shs45 billion—raising its shares to 32 percent.

The committee also questioned the circumstances under which Naads contracted the company to clear, plant, and harvest sugar cane valued at Shs54 billion instead of working directly with the outgrowers.

Source: Daily Monitor

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