By Kennedy Oryema
LANGO - Several legislators on the parliamentary health committee were ambushed by a group of hungry baboons at Karuma bridge on their way to Lango sub-region.
Led by chairman Kenneth Omona, the committee was travelling from Bunyoro to Kole district Wednesday to consult tobacco farmers and other stakeholders. The MPs are also scheduled to visit West Nile, which is another tobacco growing area.
At the bridge, the legislators (Kenneth Omona (Kalaki), Jennifer Egunyu Nantume (Buvuma), Beatrice Rusaniya (Kiruhura), Ruth Lematia (Maracha), Femia Wadada (Sironko), Medard Bitekyerezo (Mbabara Municipality), Patrick Mutono (Butebo) and Parliament staff were briefly held 'hostage' by a team of hungry baboons who were in pursuit of a bit as the legislators posed for photographs.
They later returned to the nearby bushes after they were given an assortment of food including bananas and biscuits.
Baboons and monkeys on this highway live on food hand-outs from travelers from West Nile, Lango and Acholi sub-regions.
After the photo session, the legislators later had talks with the president International Tobacco Growers Association Francois Van De Merwe, before they left for Lango..
The Anti-Tobacco Bill 2014 is the brainchild of medical doctor and MP Chris Baryomunsi. It is a private members bill with intentions of addressing health concerns.
The Uganda Constitution Article 79 (1) provides that '‘Subject to the provisions of this constitution, Parliament shall have power to make laws on any matter for peace, order, development and good governance of Uganda”.
Francois Van De Merwe, the president of International Tobacco Growers Association was critical of several sections of the bill. PHOTO/Kennedy Oryema
Francois Van De Merwe, a South African-based Tobacco farmer, said there is need for the committee to make informed decisions before the bill is passed.
He criticized the sections of the new bill which seek to bar tobacco industry merchants from interacting with farmers.
He said there is need to maintain the Tobacco Marketing Act 1969 which provides a framework of operation between the industry players and farmers.
The farmer explained that once the bill is approved in its current form, then industry players would be barred from corporate social responsibility, providing tree seedlings as is currently happening.
De Merwe said smoking tobacco is a choice and that incidences of tobacco smoking in the country is low.
The bulk of tobacco is exported in form of cured leaves, though Merwe said the levy on export will eventually be passed to the farmer in form of prices.
Currently, the companies dealing in tobacco include Uganda Tobacco Services, BAT Uganda, Continental and Tobacco Leaf to mention a few.
The Anti-Tobacco Bill 2014 intends to control consumption of tobacco and protect youth under 21 years of age from consumption of the products. It also seeks to ban display of the products.
The constitution provides for consultation with stakeholders, which is handled by a relevant committee of Parliament, before debate in the plenary of Parliament.
Tobacco farmers in Kole district said Tobacco farming is their main livelihood because other crops fetch relatively low prices. They said a kilogram of beans and maize fetches about sh500, while tobacco top grade is sh6, 750.
Baboons ambush MPs