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Invest more in agriculture to revive economy – experts

By Moses Mulondo

Added 4th November 2016 09:54 AM

“In Uganda we have aid-led vision. We don’t have vision-led aid. I think there is a mismatch."

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From left, panelists Syda Bbumba (Chairman Committee on National Economy) Carolyn Ndawula (Private Sector expert, World Bank), Amos Wekesa (CEO Great Lakes Safaris), Richard Byarugaba (NSSF Managing Director) and Sam Zimbe (General Manager, UMEME) debate at the second Press Plenary Breakfast at the Imperial Royale Hotel on Thursday. (Credit: Miriam Namutebi)

“In Uganda we have aid-led vision. We don’t have vision-led aid. I think there is a mismatch."

KAMPALA - Experts and political leaders have called for allocation of more resources and efforts for promoting commercial agriculture as the major solution for reviving Uganda’s economy which is experiencing a slowdown.

Speaking during the second parliamentary press plenary in Kampala organized by Uganda Parliamentary Press Association led by Isaac Imaka, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah said the writing is clear on the wall that Uganda’s economy is struggling.

“Even the finance minister admitted that the economy is struggling. We need innovation, creativity and unconventional thinking. We need a paradigm shift to get our country back on track. It can no longer be business as usual because the situation is unusual,” Oulanyah argued.

The   theme of the discourse was what parliament needs to do to get the economy back on track.

“In Uganda we have aid-led vision. We don’t have vision-led aid. I think there is a mismatch. How do you borrow money and fail to use it and we are made to pay for that in penalties?” he wondered.

He disagreed with the NSSF boss Richard Byarugaba and the chairperson of the parliament national economy committee Syda Bumba over cautioning government against policy reversal which would enable government to revive state enterprises.

“In what became to be known as the Washington consensus, we liberalized the economy and privatized state enterprises. But should we sit and watch because we have adopted a liberalized economy? Shouldn’t government be involved in doing business? Where there are governments, shouldn’t government make investments? There are many investments which can only be done government,” Oulanyah argued.

Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanya (rights) chats with, from left, Onapito Ekomoloit (Cooporate Affairs Director, Nile Breweries), Lawrence Bategeka (Vice Chair National Economy Parliament), John Njoroge and Richard Byarugaba. (Credit: Miriam Namutebi)

The Deputy Speaker said the private foreign investors Uganda relies on leave a lot to be desired.

“In Uganda, we get investors who have nothing to lose. They come with briefcases and papers, and generate resources locally and after getting something, they take it out of the country,” he argued.

Attributing Uganda’s economic slowdown partly to high interest rates, the Deputy Speaker confessed he is one of the victims trying to pay a mortgage loan whose interest is higher than the principal.

The National Social Security Fund boss Richard Byarugaba said the major problem has been the poor saving culture in the country.

“Our economy has been limping for a longtime. In this economy, we just want to consume. We are not good at saving. We need reforms on the NSSF to attract more people to save. At the moment many don’t want to save with NSSF because they have to wait until they are 55 years to get their money,” Byarugaba suggested.

He also proposed that since Uganda’s comparative advantage in the global market is agriculture, more resources to should be invested in that sector which employs majority Ugandans.

Although she also fronted agriculture as the sector government needs to give priority, she disagreed with Byarugaba on the argument of poor saving culture.

“Over 68% of Ugandans are outside the money economy. How do you expect them to save? Even many of those employed in the money sector are earning less than what they need to spend,” Bumba argued.

Tourism investor Amos Wekesa also concurred with previous speakers on the need for government to prioritize agriculture.

He argued that whereas the National Development Plan prioritizes tourism and agriculture, the sectors have continued to get a small portion of the national budget.

Responding to concerns about high power tariffs which cause the cost of production to be high in the country, Umeme Deputy Managing Director Sam Zimbe urged government to make necessary interventions.

“We must have a sustainable power tariff regime to keep investors from running out of our economy. We have plans to invest in voltage lines and substations for which we need 1.5b dollars which we don’t have. We need to be helped to reduce incidents of power theft,” Zimbe argued.

Umeme communications specialist Stephen Illungolle revealed that Umeme loses close to sh106b every year to power theft.

Former Leader of Opposition Ogenga Latigo called for measures which will ensure the economic growth in the country is inclusive.

“Much of Uganda’s reported economic growth is happening here in Kampala and the rest of the country is watching. Parliament is not yet clear on what we have to do. I agree with the Deputy Speaker that we need a paradigm shift,” Latigo argued.

Buliisa County MP Stephen Mukitale said, “We have spending money on wars for the 25 years. If the trillions of money spent on infrastructure had been invested in measures for promoting commercial agriculture, our country would be far."

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