KAMPALA: The Supreme Mufti, Sheikh Muhammad Shaban Galabuzi, wants a review of the coffee agreement signed between the government and Vinci Coffee Company Limited, so as to cater to the interests of local farmers in the same industry.
The Supreme Mufti made the suggestion in his message at Kibuli Mosque in Kampala, where he was officiating at the 2022 Eid Al Fitr prayers.
The said agreement was signed by the Minister of Finance, Matia Kasaija, on February 10, 2022, and witnessed by Ramathan Ggoobi, the Secretary to Treasury on behalf of the government, and Enrica Pinetti, an Italian investor and the Board Chairperson of Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited, on behalf of the company. Pinetti is the woman behind the unimplemented Lubowa Specialized Hospital Project.
The company was given free land in the Industrial and Business Park at Namanve after it indicated its desire to establish a coffee processing facility in Kampala.
The company, which is exempted from paying a number of taxes, will also be given exclusive rights to buy Uganda’s coffee even before the government can look at other players, and its concession will end in 2032, but it is subject to renewal.
But in his message, the Supreme Mufti Galabuzi indicated that the government needs to review that agreement because it doesn’t favour the local farmers dealing in coffee.
According to Galabuzi, the purported investor has failed to accomplish the multi-billion dollar specialised hospital facility in Lubowa and she is now jumping on the coffee deal which he thinks she is incapable of delivering.
Galabuzi said he is a businessman dealing in coffee and he is qualified to understand that the agreement at issue is very bad and if it needs revamping, the defunct Uganda Coffee Marketing Board should do it and protect the farmers.
For his part, the Katikiro of Buganda, Charles Peter Mayiga, appreciated the number of leaders who have come together to criticise the coffee agreement.
In his speech read on his behalf by the Buganda Kingdom’s 1st Deputy, Katikiro Twaaha Kawaase Kigongo, Mayiga indicated that the agreement needs to be changed because many of the people in Buganda depend on coffee as their source of income.
But according to Katikiro, the government did not consult them nor did it consult the cooperatives dealing in the same business by the time they came up with the agreement in contention, which gives a monopoly to Vinci Coffee Company Limited.
He appealed to the coffee farmers not to lose hope and said that they shouldn’t go home and start cutting down their coffee trees, saying that the agreement is like a wind which will also blow and pass.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on Sunday during the Labour Day celebrations said the government is considering looking into the concerns raised by the public about this coffee agreement and indicated that the agreement still stands.
But Museveni’s Minister Kasaija and Permanent Secretary Ggoobi, while appearing before the Parliamentary Trade Committee last month, insisted that the agreement could not be terminated or annulled, citing financial consequences.
Last month, two lawyers, Henry Byansi and Michael Aboneka, petitioned the High Court Civil Division in Kampala seeking to quash the agreement signed between the government and Vinci Coffee Company Limited.
The lawyers contend that the actions of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development in secretly handpicking Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited, leaving behind other able Ugandan firms to singly manage the coffee and set prices for coffee and related products, and giving them the priority to supply it, is an infringement on the right to own property and open competition as well as the economic rights of coffee farmers in the country.