Uganda earns close to $700m annually from trade with South Sudan
Members of Parliament on the committee of trade want government to suspend its planned visit to South Sudan to discuss matters of delayed payments of Ugandan traders.
The suspension of the trip is to allow Parliament crosscheck with the old list of companies to be paid that was verified and approved by members of the 9th Parliament.
This follows a report from a team from the ministry of trade led by minister of state for industry, Michael Werikhe while appearing before the committee.
He told MPs that a team will be led by trade minister Amelia Kyambadde, foreign affairs and other technical staff. Uganda earns close to $700m annually from trade with South Sudan.
The suggestion to suspend the travel set was raised by Gordon Bafaki, MP for Kazo County in Kiruhura.
"How can you have a team of only senior government officials going to discuss a matter affecting parties who are not represented? How are we sure they are going to discuss the interest of traders, let them first sort those already known here first," said Bafaki.
He was backed by Dokolo South County MP, Felix Okot Ogong. He said two years ago a list of companies that were demanding for payments from South Sudan was verified and they were demanding for $50million.
"And now you are still saying that you want to go and verify, what do you want to verify that the minister is not aware of? Produce the list we verified and first clear that one," said Ogong.
He added that the matter was brought before the 9th Parliament and that partial payment has already been made to some companies.
"We don't want to keep dragging this economy backwards because of a few selfish companies who I'm told the team is going to negotiate for. What about the small ones? Who will negotiate for them? ," Okot wondered.
Kibanda North County MP, Jack Odur added that they cannot let the team to travel to South Sudan to negotiate for few companies and yet even smaller traders too need their payments.
Burahya County MP Margret Muhanga asked the ministry to speed up payments of those already verified like Chris Kaijuka of Afgrikai who is demanding for $80m from the South Sudan government but is about to lose property to financial institutions.
He was backed by Fort Portal Municipality MP, Alex Ruhunda who said even when payments are being effected these should be tagged with conditions.
"Bailed out companies should be directed to invest in Uganda and not any other country so that the country can benefit from government's efforts. There is a danger of payment and then these decide to go on a spending spree," Ruhunda said.
However the permanent secretary in the ministry Julius Onen explained that the visit is aimed at getting the South Sudan government to make a commitment in writing and the time frame of the payment process.
He explained that the arbitration committee was set up in which the two countries were to present a list of companies in need of payments and share notes but this wasn't respected by South Sudan.
Onen said those demanding were grouped into four categories. The first group supplied government institutions; the second to local government.
The third was between individuals under a private arrangement, the other category was those who lost property due mischief in South Sudan and those were injured and have Police records.
"So the new arrangement is for us to get a new commitment in writing that they will pay traders that is why the team has to go there physically because the two committees have never met," explained Onen.