Commercialized Electoral Politics is the reason Ugandan voters do not have sugar in their cups.
Ugandan voters are now tasting first-hand, the effects of commercialised elective politics as they take tea, coffee, or corn/millet porridge without sugar not by choice, but just because they cannot afford it. The average price for a kilogram of sugar today is currently UGX 5,000 ($ 1.4), up from UGX 3,000 ($0.7) by year 2020. This price is expensive for an ordinary person living on less than a dollar a day. And the current price of sugar is not about to go down anytime soon, instead it will likely go up, and SecretsKnown will let you know why, shortly.
According to a Report by Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) released in 2021, Uganda remains one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2019/2020, 12.3 million people (30.1% of the population) lived below the poverty line of US $1.77 per person per day. Over the past two years, more Ugandans have slipped into poverty than come out of it.
But what has the price of sugar got to do with commercialised elective politics? Well, let’s trace its genesis. It starts with the Ugandan voter redefining the role of a Member of Parliament from legislation, appropriation, oversight and representation; to contributors of cash to cover their constituents’ medical expenses, funeral expenses, school fees, weddings etc.
Monetised Voters to Blame
During election campaigns, the electorate impose monetary demands on political candidates and often choose leaders based on monetary inducements. This increases astronomically, the cost of running for elections. Thus, after being elected, the political office bearer must in addition to recouping what they spent, amass enough war chest for the next election. This is often achieved through a number of mechanisms including commercializing the legislative function of Parliament. But let’s now draw the connection with rising sugar prices.
In 2017, Government tabled in the 10th Parliament, the Sugar Bill 2017 with the objective of ensuring that there is a sustainable, diversified, harmonised, modern and competitive sugar sector to meet domestic, regional and international sugar requirements.
The bill contained a critical provision of zoning manufacturers and out growers by a radius of 25 kilometers to avoid cane poaching and its negative effect on the sugar industry. This would also ensure that the existing order is maintained where traditional sugar producers namely Kakira, Lugazi, Kinyara, Sango Bay, etc, are far away from each other.
However, the newcomers in the sugar industry wanted none of it. They vehemently opposed the provision on zoning and wanted it removed. These were about 09 companies which were coming in to join the giants – Kakira, Lugazi, and Kinyara.
The Secret Known is that the newcomers wanted to produce sugar quickly and had no time to develop their own cane variety, grow own plantations and set up own out growers. Their intention was to ride on existing out growers and this would not be possible if the provision on zoning was maintained. The traditional sugar manufacturers’ practice was to support the out-growers in terms of provision of raw materials and fertilizers in anticipation of purchasing the cane once it was mature.
Commercialisation of the Legislative Function of Parliament
When the bill was sent to the Parliamentary Committee on Trade for scrutiny, the committee members became the target of newcomers in the sugar industry with loads of cash to ensure that the provision on zoning is removed. And the members allegedly pocketed the money because this was a window of opportunity to recoup what they had spent on campaigns.
It is said that the money was in such huge amounts that at one time the committee members turned against their own Chairperson, Hon. Alex Ruhunda and threatened to cast a vote of no confidence in him if he insisted on the position of President Museveni on the zoning provision.
“My brother, for the first time I experienced corruption pinning me against the cross. My own members turned against me and I learned that they had been facilitated big time by the new sugar companies”, Hon. Ruhunda revealed in an exclusive discussion with one of the principals of SecretsKnown.
Speaking during a National Resistance Movement retreat at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi, President Museveni was reported to have said he will not sign the Sugar Bill if the provision on zoning is absent.
President Museveni Supported the Zoning Policy
“The way you (Parliamentarians) are behaving, you are antagonizing our old sugar people and I don’t know the relationship you have with small sugar people. Some of you have got a suspicious relationship with the small sugar people and now you are sabotaging my plan,” Museveni observed.
What Museveni called a “suspicious relationship” is the massive facilitation payments MPs in the 10th Parliament had pocketed to ensure that the provision on zoning was deleted, and indeed the bill was passed without it.
The situation where legislators accept facilitation payments to skew the enactment of national laws to protect or favour the interests of benefactors is known as legislative corruption. It traces its roots in commercialisation of elective politics where money not national interests, become the major drivers of the law-making process.
It is recalled that legislators such as Hon. Reagan Okumu (Aswa county) and Paul Mwiru (Jinja Municipality East) pleaded with fellow legislators to drop emotions in the debate and support zoning. “Zoning does not mean monopoly; it doesn’t mean stopping farmers from selling sugarcane elsewhere; this cannot be an emotional debate” Hon. Paul Mwiru pleaded. However, their pleas fell on deaf ears and the bill was passed without the provision on zoning.
President Museveni, true to his word, refused to assent to the bill that was devoid of the provision on zoning for which government had proposed a radius of 25km between sugar mills and out-growers in that area supplying cane to only one mill. He returned it to the 10th Parliament. But the legislators stuck to their guns arguing that they were creating competition to protect the interests of sugarcane out growers from being exploited by the traditional big sugar cane buyers. The bill finally became law, thanks to the “wisdom” of the 10th Parliament.
Relationship between de-zoning and the Rising Sugar Prices
When the sugar bill was finally gazetted as an Act of Parliament without the contested provision on zoning, it was money from the new sugar companies that won, but the industry and the ordinary sugar consumers lost.
The law gave license to smaller sugar manufacturers to poach on out growers on big players – Kakira, Lugazi, and Kinyara sugar corporation – which more than doubled the purchasing price of cane from out-growers. They set up weighbridges almost everywhere and diverted the traffic of canes from existing producers to themselves yet there was no proportional growth number of out growers and quantify of cane to match the increased demand, resulting in under-capacity.
The Voter Now Experiencing the Consequences
As a consequence, a traditional producer such as Kakira Sugar, whose factory has a capacity of 8,500 tons of sugar per day, can spend days without producing sugar as they wait to make up the required tonnage of cane for their factory to operate. But the newcomers themselves who bankrolled the removal of zoning, are also experiencing the same challenge. The consequence is that there is scarcity of sugar which automatically increases the price, thanks to the 10th Parliament which did not see the point to entrench zoning in the law.
This scarcity will continue and at its very worst, traditional producers like Kakira, Lugazi and Kinyara sugar may close shop. Uganda risks suffering from the same consequences as Kenya faced when they de-zoned and ended up with the closing shop of big players like Mumias Sugar. Yet in Brazil, a country where sugar production has been at optimal capacity since 1900, the sugar industry is thriving because of zoning.