Mbarara Central Market completion extended again

Traders in Mbarara district will again have to wait longer before they can occupy the highly anticipated Mbarara Central Market, after its completion date was extended to January 2021.

This is the third such extension of the project after the contractor, Roko Construction Company, failed to deliver on the original February 2020 due date.

The Shs 21bn project is being implemented by ROKO Construction Company under the Markets and Agriculture Trade Improvement Project (MATIP) that aims to improve agricultural trade.

Mbarara City Principal Commercial Officer, James Agaba, blamed the delay on the COVID-19 pandemic which paralyzed site works and hampered purchase of materials.

“ROKO had placed an order for some materials from China but when COVID-19 hit harder some factories had to close. Even the team that was supposed to inspect the materials before shipment from China could not proceed since the airports were closed at the time,” he added

He revealed that following the easing of lockdown, the inspection had been done and shipping of the materials commenced.

Extension

In light of this, Agaba said the contractor has been given till end of January 2021 to complete works or else trigger a fine of 0.5% of the total project cost per extra day in liquidated damages.

“According to the terms of contract, Roko is supposed to lose 100 million per day beyond 31st of January 2021, a charge they are supposed to pay to the central government for not finishing the market in the agreed time” Agaba vowed

However, Eng. Willie Swanepoel, the Contract Operations Manager Roko Construction Company suggested that the delays were caused by the central government that has been slow in releasing project’s money.

“I could not risk employing so many workers when there is no money to pay them; neither would you make orders for the materials when you are not sure of what to pay after deliveries, so even government is to blame,” said Swanepoel.

The Principal Commercial Officer, however, insists that government is ready to pay the contractor once the project is completed, adding that government has been extra careful to avoid situations that would lead to litigation or extra fines.

“Government is well aware of the consequences of breaching the contract. For instance if the contractor is frustrated by government, the contractor is supposed to charge government as well, as embedded in the contract agreement,” Agaba said.

Traders impatient

Donozio Kibanda, Secretary for Publicity Mbarara Central Market Vendors Association said that the continuous delays in completing the market are a nightmare for the traders who were temporarily relocated to the municipality’s Independence Park grounds to allow construction works to commence.

The City Principal Commercial Officer appealed to the central market vendors, now based at Independence Park to remain patient, saying the market should be done in a couple of months.

“The market is in its final stages- at 90% completion, according to a previous report. We are only left with a few things which we should be able to finish up in the remaining time, and then can traders occupy their market,” says Agaba.

Some of the remaining construction works at the facility include installation of water tanks, roofing and tiling.

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Pakwach: Rising L. Albert waters destroy local businesses

Business owners in Panyimur Town Council, Pakwach district, are in tears over the rising levels of Lake Albert that have submerged several business premises in the area, leading to loss of income estimated in the millions of shillings.

Genaro Muswa Maditwun, who owns one of the top hotels in Panyimur Town Council, Pakwach district, says he started his hotel business in 1998 in Panyimur, then one of the busiest landing sites in West Nile.

However, he says his business has been decimated by waters from L. Albert which have cut off access to his hotel and submerged a significant portion of it.

“I am making a loss of Shs 1.2m in monthly income, before factoring in the repair costs once the waters recede,” Muswa said.

Several businesses and infrastructure along the buffer zones of lakes and rivers in Panyimur Town Council, Pakwach district, have been submerged or destroyed following increased rains that started last year, resulting in the rising water level of L. Albert.

All income generating activities at the landing sites, both government-funded and privately owned, have come to a standstill as a result of the ongoing disaster.

“I am currently suffering from diabetics and [high blood] pressure, in addition to servicing a loan. I can no longer look for capital to start a new business,” a despondent Muswa says.

Paul Kinobe, the Chairman of Panyimur’s business community says majority of the business premises in the area have been submerged by water, making them impossible for customers to access.

“Accommodation facilities like hotels, bars and lodges have been the most affected,” he said.

Kinobe called upon the government to assess the situation of business owners affected by the flooding and come to their rescue.

“Our local business operators are in a panic about how to pay back loans they had borrowed, since their businesses are greatly affected by the rising water level and the lowered incomes as a result,” Kinobe said.

Cholera fears

Meanwhile, Panyimur Sub County, LC III Chairman, Shaban Ofoi expressed concern that the area, known in the past as an epicenter for Cholera in the region, might be headed for another attack of the epidemic since most of the latrines have collapsed or been submerged by the rising water levels.

“Our latrines and clean water sources at the landing sites are submerged with water. The few facilities left are being overwhelmed by the population. We could face another Cholera epidemic if close attention is not paid to helping the local community,” Ofoi said.

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400 farmers in Kwania receive heifers under restocking program

More than 400 farmers from six sub-counties in Kwania district have received heifers worth Shs 576m under the restocking program.

In 2014, the government earmarked Shs 20 bn to restore livelihoods and alleviate poverty in West Nile, Acholi, Lango and the Teso-sub regions through restocking under the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) following the two-decades-long rebellion by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The heifers will benefit widows, widowers, the elderly, persons with disabilities, orphans and the Ex-combatants from the Sub Counties of Aduku, Inomo, Chawente, Nambieso, Abongomola and Aduku Town Council.

Bazil Okello Onac, the Kwania District LCV Chairperson asked the beneficiaries to adhere to the restocking guidelines issued by the government and use the animals to alleviate poverty at the grassroots.

“They should keep these animals for at least four years, according to the government guidelines, and let them multiply in order to eradicate poverty. We want to hear success stories on what the restocking program has done for them,” he said.

In a similar vein, Salim Komakech, the Kwania Resident District Commissioner cautioned the beneficiaries against selling off the animals, but rather urged them to use them to improve their income.

“The president’s vision is to empower households that are not yet in the money-making economy. Beneficiaries should not sell off these animals, but instead use them for production. We as security shall ensure that these guidelines are indeed followed,” he said in an interview.

Bonny Okello, a resident of Ikwera cell in Aduku Town Council and beneficiary of the program, thanked the government for the donation, saying the animals will go a long way to improve on his livelihood.

Another beneficiary, a widow and resident of Anginyi Village in Aduku Sub County, Shopia Odul, says this is the first time she has personally benefitted from the government.

“I am going to look after the animal well and once it multiplies, I will use the income to pay for my four children school and provide us a better life,” she pledged.

Dr Charles Opeto, the Kwania District Veterinary Officer said that Aduku Town Council was slated to receive 26 herds of cattle, Aduku 65, Nambieso 130, Inomo 95, while Abongomola and Chawente would each get 82.

The restocking program has faced a host of challenges since its inception, including inadequate supervision and alleged ghost beneficiaries.

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UCDA cracks down on immature coffee trade

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) has declared war against traders engaged in buying immature coffee from farmers.

UCDA’s regional extension officer for Rwenzori region, Emmanuel Tumwizere, said picking immature coffee berries affects the quality of coffee in the country.

“Coffee is continuously losing quality because of some farmers harvesting immature coffee which ends up rotting. Others use poor post harvest handling methods like drying it on the bare ground, which also negatively impacts on its quality,” he said.

Even consumers are put at risk by immature coffee, which Tumwizere says can become “hazardous”.

“When farmers pick immature coffee, they first keep it in sacks and hence it ends up molding. This develops a toxic acid which is hazardous to consumers because it causes cancer,” he said.

He further noted that such poor harvesting practices threaten to undermine the progress that has been made in promoting coffee farming in the region.

“People in the Rwenzori region have responded positively to planting more coffee but there are some farmers who are not adhering to good harvesting standards by harvesting immature coffee,” he said.

Traders involved in buying immature coffee tend to lure farmers into selling to them by offering more money for it than they would pay at harvest time when mature coffee floods the market.

According to locals, traders buy a basin of immature coffee at Shs 10,000, which Tumwizere said is more than what they would get for coffee that is ready for harvest.

In response, UCDA has intensified efforts to curb the vice by threatening to arrest farmers involved in the trade.

“We shall start arresting any farmer that we find harvesting immature coffee because it affects the quality of coffee on the market which not only affects the farmer but also the country’s exports” he said.

Taking action

On Wednesday this week, Tumwizere impounded 26 sacks of immature coffee and arrested two workers accused of engaging in the illicit trade at a coffee store in Kiburara village, Hakibale Sub County, in Kabarole district.

The operation, which was conducted by Tumwizere and an official from the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), followed a tip off from locals that some traders were buying immature coffee within their village. The traders were apprehended and handed over to the police, and their coffee impounded.

In 2017, during an operation OWC officials impounded more than 500kgs of green coffee berries from traders in Mitandi Kyamukube town council, now part of Bunyangabu district and arrested one of the traders.

Richard Waako, the in-charge, defence, in Kiburara village where the culprits were netted, said the two individuals had been arrested twice before over the same practice (dealing in immature coffee), but they have persisted in the illicit trade.

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Thugs hit Mbarara cooperative, kill two guards

Police in Mbarara is investigating circumstances under which two security guards were killed on Sunday after unknown assailants attacked a local cooperative.

According to Rwizi Region Police spokesperson, ASP Samson Kasasira, the deceased were guarding Nyakayojo People’s SACCO located in Karama 1 cell Rwakishakizi ward Nyakayojo Division Mbarara City.

The incident happened over the weekend (Sunday) when the as-yet-unidentified assailants attacked Nyakayojo SACCO with the suspected aim of robbing its property.

“Today 11th October at about 0700hrs we received information from Nyakayojo Police Post that two security guards guarding at Nyakayojo People’s SACCO were found dead,” Kasasira said.

The spokesperson said a team of investigators including the Rwizi Regional Scene of Crime Officer (SOCO), canine and homicide investigators rushed to the scene to begin inquiries into the incident.

The deceased were identified as Herbert Tugume aged 22 a resident of Kitabo cell in Kashongi Sub County, Kiruhura district, and 22-year old Igga Budalla from Buteraniro Nyeihanga Rwampara district, both attached to Securiwise Security Company Ltd.

According to the police, two guards were stuck with blunt objects that led to their death on spot. Kasasira further disclosed that a rifle with three rounds and a baton were recovered at the scene.

He said the assailants first destroyed the CCTV camera at the cooperative before breaking into the co-op’s premises to steal a 32-inch LG television, an HP laptop, Network router and a TECNO Pop 2 mobile phone.

However, the SACCO money was not taken after the assailants attempted but apparently failed to break into the safe.

“Cash in the strong room was found intact because the safe was too strong for the thieves to break into,” said one of the SACCO’s employees.

Nyakayojo people’s SACCO is one of the leading financial cooperatives in Mbarara, with a total turnover of more than Shs 2 bn.

Attempts by theCooperator to reach the SACCO’s Manager for comment on the incident were unfruitful as he repeatedly turned down our calls.

The bodies of the deceased were taken to Mbarara Regional Referral hospital for post-mortem.

Kasasira says no arrests have been made so far, but investigations are ongoing.

He advised financial institutions to employ competently trained security personnel to guarantee the safety of their members’ savings.

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Kashari traders beg government to re-open cattle markets

Traders in Kyenshama Trading Centre in Kashari North Constituency have requested government to think about reopening of cattle markets.

Kyenshama cattle market, which previously operated every Friday, was officially closed on March 20 this year as one of several measures aimed at stopping the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kyenshama is one of the biggest animal markets in western Uganda and receives about 300 heads of cattle and 400 goats and sheep from the neighbouring districts of Kazo, Mbarara, Kiruhura and Buhweju weekly.

According to Deus Ndyanabo, LC I Chairperson Kyenshama trading centre, the market has in the past provided job opportunities to mostly youths in the cattle chain in Kashari constituency.

Many of these, he says, have been rendered unemployed following the shutdown of the market.

“All the food vendors in the market, plus the boys who were aiding in loading and offloading of cattle have no other means of survival,” says Ndyanabo

He says the closure of cattle markets also hampered farmers from selling their farm products.

“When you took your goat or cow to the market, you would be assured of getting some money to solve issues on your farm. But now it’s hard to sell any farm animal since all markets were closed,” Ndyanabo explains, adding that, as a result, the living conditions for people in Kyenshama have since deteriorated.

He asked residents to remain patient as government looks into the matter.

“Traders should remain patient because we see that some other markets were re-opened, for instance, those dealing in food stuffs operating normally. We hope that government can re-open cattle markets as well and put in place standard operating procedures for us to sell our animals to get money to look after our families,” Ndyanabo said.

Fridah Kajungu, a single mother of five who has operated a local hotel in Kyenshama trading centre for over eight years, could not hide her pain over the drastic drop in customers for her food ever since COVID-19 struck.

Kajungu reveals that she has been facing issues with her landlord since March 2020 when the market was closed.

“It was easier to get his rent when the market was open. Now that Kyenshama was closed I have nowhere to get his money,” she explained.

Due to the reduced demand for food, Kajungu says that she was forced to lower the price of a plate of food from Shs 3000 to 1000 each.

In addition, the beleaguered Kajungu is struggling to pay a one million shillings loan she took from Rwanyamahembe SACCO to kick-start her business.

“I had already cleared some of it, but I still owe the SACCO about five hundred shillings,” she said.

She appealed to the government to give financial support to traders recovering from the slump in business due to COVID-19.

Kansiime Nice, another trader dealing in retail and merchandise, told theCooperator that her sales have fallen dramatically since the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed.

To illustrate, she points to a stack of unsold ropes, an item that flew off the shelves when Kyenshama cattle market was operational.

“These ropes were being bought by cattle dealers in this market; to whom can I sell them now that the cattle business is no more?” she asked.

The mother of two says she is struggling to cater for her two children, having used up all her savings.

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Soroti fruit factory recovering from 87% drop in sales due to COVID-19

The management of Soroti fruit factory is struggling to recover from losses resulting from the COVID-19-related lockdown.

According to Douglas Kakyukyu Ndawula the factory’s Executive Director, the company registered an 87% drop in sales during the lockdown period.

“Although the factory was operating during the lockdown, sales were poor because all the companies that used to buy the products were closed,” Ndawula explained.

He is hopeful that sales will recover, now that the lock down has been lifted.

“The market is already picking up, and we hope it will recover soon,,“ he said.

The factory, which is located in Soroti, Eastern Uganda, was established by the government of Uganda in 2014 to support value addition in fruit processing, promote industrial growth and boost household incomes in the sub region.

According to Ndawula, the fruit processing plant has a capacity to consume 6,000kg of oranges, 2,000kg of mangoes and 4,000kg of pineapples per hour, and produces several juice and concentrate products under the Teju brand.

“Its main products are juice concentrates (Mango, Orange and Lemon) and ready-to-drink juice which must meet the required domestic, regional and international standards,” he said.

Supporting cooperatives

Ndawula said the company has so far bought a total 2,500,000 kg of oranges from 109 farmer cooperative unions, primary cooperative societies, associations, and companies that were registered to supply the factory with fruits from the Eastern and Northern parts of Uganda.

He said the company is still in need of supply of specific fruit varieties from farmers:

“I want to inform farmers that the only improved mango varieties we buy include: Boribo, Kakule, Tommy Atkins, Zillet, Apple Mango, Kent, Keitt and Haden well improved varieties, while for oranges we only buy Valencia, Washington Naval and Hamiline.”

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Farmers frustrated over low banana prices

Banana farmers in Uganda’s western region have expressed frustration over the current spell of low produce prices that threatens to drive many out of business.

Jomo Mugabe, a renowned farmer in Rukindo, Mbarara Municipality, maintains a 70-acre banana plantation. However, is bitter that he is receiving “peanuts” from the sale of matooke from his farm, as banana prices in the region continue to plummet.

“The price of bananas has reduced from Shs 20,000 a bunch, to between Shs 3,000-4,000 at farm gate. At such prices we are not making any profit. We cannot even afford to pay workers,” he said.

Mugabe, who harvests more than 10,000 bunches of banana every three weeks and employs 15 workers, believes that if the low prices persist, many farmers will quit growing the crop that is a staple for millions of Ugandans.

“I have been farming for many years but have reached a level of failing because the prices of bananas have reduced so much. If it persists like this then it means that we are going to get away from farming,” he said.

However, according to Asaph Muhangi, the Chairperson Rwampara district, the drop in prices is simply a result of market forces.

“People have grown bananas on a large scale meaning that the supply is high and demand low,” he explained. This surplus production, Muhangi said, coupled with competition from other food commodities on the local, has resulted in low prices for bananas.

Promote export, value addition

Muhangi proposed export promotion as a possible solution, saying bananas are in demand on the world market, including in countries like China, India and the USA.

“We had suggested that government should import coolers and Germany was willing to provide them, but the project proposal failed somewhere along the way. As we speak, we cannot export fresh matooke even up to Kenya,” he said.

He also called for increased investment in value addition for banana on a large scale, saying the local processing facilities are inadequate to absorb the available supply.

“The banana factory we have in Nyaruzinga Bushenyi produces very little compared to the amount of matooke we have in the region. Can you imagine the whole regional banana factory processes only one lorry per week?” he asked.

Muhangi further urged farmers to take charge of their own marketing and avoid brokers and middle men who, he said, tend to offer low prices at farm gate.

“Do not grow your crops waiting for others to trade them for you,” he advised. “If famers like Mugabe took their bananas direct to Kampala, they would not be cheated by the middle men at all,” he explained.

The district Chairman believes that farmer organizations can do more in obtaining more favourable prices and farming conditions for their members.

“We have weak farmer organizations which should be working to reduce production costs by helping farmers obtain inputs equipment, agrichemicals and fertilizers at cheaper rates; but farmer cooperatives are so weak that they cannot even market their own products,” Muhangi said.

Prepare for post COVID-19 opportunities

Chairman Muhangi called upon farmers to prepare to take advantage of the post-COVID-19 period which, he predicts, will come with heightened demand for food.

“I see a bright future for bananas now because this global pandemic is likely to result in a global food crisis,” he opined.

However, Mugabe appealed for increased government support if farmers are to benefit from any possible opportunities after the pandemic.

“Government should find ways to support farmers financially, especially those who grow perishable crops. We need low-interest business loans if we are to survive,” he said.

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Uganda loses $270,000 per day to smuggling – URA

According to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), government loses at least $270,000 (about Shs 985 million) per day to smuggling in unpaid taxes and some officials in the tax body are complicit in turning a blind eye to the vice.

This was revealed to theCooperator by the then Commissioner-General of URA, Ms. Doris Akol, during a phone interview conducted prior to her replacement.

The annual Performance Report of 2018 jointly authored by ActionAid and Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), both civil society entities that have been involved in fighting the outflow, support this assertion.

The report reads in part that, “More than $3,240,000 which is Shs11.8 billion flows out of Uganda annually as smuggling is aided by some of the corrupt border officials fuelling this phenomenon,” referring to Uganda’s loss to Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs).

Smuggling is a global issue that is difficult to curb given its complex operations and the diverse commodities and persons involved.

Global Financial Integrity, a non-profit, Washington, DC-based research entity explains smuggling as a form of IFFs, broadly known as the movements of money and value from one country to another, especially money and value that are illicitly earned, illicitly transferred and illicitly utilised.

Smuggling is common on the Uganda-Kenya border towns of Busia and Malaba as it is practiced by the seemingly innocent women, disabled persons and children who are paid to do that by rich traders.

Others pose as relatives going to mourn their loved ones across Kenya’s border yet their aim is to smuggle merchandise, denying government $270,000 revenue per day.

Jabweli Okello, 43, a smuggler at Malaba border says, “It’s the biting poverty that forced me into illegal trade and I know it. However, it has helped me to flourish in these difficult times.”

Okello (not real name), a renowned smuggler in eastern Uganda, owns a number of taxis that ply the Malaba-Kampala highway and he recently won a tender to manage a taxi park in Malaba Town Council in Tororo district.

Travellers are able to cross with commodities such as cigarettes, clothes, sugar and other general merchandise which they stuff into their clothing unnoticed by the border authorities.

Moses Musira, an independent tax policy analyst says, “It’s a hard thing for the government to think that it can stop smuggling. No. You cannot. There are government officials who benefit a lot out of smuggling and have amassed untold wealth, and government knows it.”

“Even those who work with URA are part of the clique,” he exclaimed, saying, “A businessman can smuggle five cars and give one car to URA officials because he knows how much he stands to gain from the four cars.”

Combating IFFs

Akol says URA is ready to support any campaign meant to combat IFFs into the country.

She made these remarks while in a stakeholders meeting with other institutions like the Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) in Kampala recently.

“URA is already involved in some aspects of curbing IFFs. Our plan is to increase the collection of domestic revenue through stopping IFFs, especially arising from smuggling, misinvoicing, transfer pricing and other forms of aggressive tax evasion,” Akol said.

However, Musira says: “The only remedy for smuggling is to have it reduced but nobody should deceive the public that it can be stopped.”

He says for countries that share common borders to reduce the rate of smuggling, they should sensitize and educate their citizens around the border against the vice.

“Uganda should ensure that it enforces pro-people tax policies that don’t deny people access to basic commodities.”

Musira cites a case in point where authorities in Kenya have banned cheap milk imports that flood their markets in order to protect local farmers and revive the agricultural sector.

“This kind of restriction encourages smuggling by those traders who cannot afford to buy Kenyan expensive products; they will be propelled to engage in the smuggling of Ugandan cheap products,” Musira sums up.

The Town Clerk, Busia Town Council, Vincent Okurut, in a telephone interview, says, “The problem of smuggling can only be stopped by enforcement of tough restrictions at entry points.

Julius Mukunda, the CSBAG executive director, says the economies of small towns are dependent on smuggling as a number of citizens engage themselves in the practice in order to earn a living.

Unfortunately, to Mukunda, this affects the abilities of URA to generate the expected revenue as much is lost through smuggling.

“Smuggling at the border towns affects youths negatively as most of them opt to smuggle and earn quick petty cash as opposed to attending school. This not only affects the families of these youths but also impedes government from achieving its overall objective of improving literacy,” Mukunda says.

Mukunda adds that the robust solution to smuggling is for government to impose heavier fines and penalties on smugglers.

This story was produced by www.thecooperator.news. It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in partnership with the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism. More information at www.wealth-of-nations.org. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.

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