The debate on the Sugar (Amendment) Bill, 2023 has been deferred after the House failed to agree on the funding of the proposed Sugar Council, which if the bill is passed, will be the regulator of the sector.
The Sugar Act, 2020 created the Sugar Board as a regulatory organ but due to government’s rationalisation policy that halted the creation of such bodies, the board has never been established.
Government is now proposing the council which will be funded by a sugar levy charged on millers.
The proposal for funding of the council sparked a heated debated with several Members of Parliament advocating for reinstatement of the Sugar Board.
“You cannot say we do not want a board because government does not have money for it. That is like saying, ‘it is not important’, yet sugar is a very important industry in the country. There was a time when we had a crisis in the whole country because of sugar prices,” said Hon. Aisha Kabanda (NUP, Butambala District Woman Representative).
Jinja District Woman Representative, Hon. Loy Katali said it is proper for government to regulate the sugar industry as opposed to the council which she said will place farmers at the mercy of the millers.
“Sugarcane growers have struggled to be where they are; it is proper for government to come up and fund the board. When it comes to the council, it is going to be funded by the millers, meaning the farmers will be under the mercy of the millers,” said Katali.
Kagoma County MP, Hon. Moses Walyomu made a case for the demerits of the Sugar Council to the sugarcane farmers, and why the Sugar Board should be financed.
“The Sugar Council will not be independent because it will be financed by the millers and such farmers will be subjected to millers. I propose that government should look for money to facilitate the board because the Sugar Industry contributes a lot to the Consolidated Fund yet there are many agencies funded by government that do not contribute to the fund,” he said.
The Minister of State for Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives (Industry), Hon. David Bahati defended the move to disband the sugar board saying government lacks the required financing to operationalise it.
“I should not be cause for worry; we should be concerned that we have had a law for two years, you asked government to implement it and we have not. We have told you we have some concerns, we did not have the resources to put the board in place,” said Bahati.
Bahati argued that consultations with stakeholders in the sugar industry informed government of other forms of regulation such as the council where government and the private sector will jointly undertake the regulatory role.
“It became apparent that we can look at other models in other countries that are better than the board governed by government because with the council, the power to regulate is in the hands of people who understand the industry much better.” Bahati added.
The Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa said Parliament will require the counsel of the Attorney General on two issues within the bill before consideration of the bill continues.
“I am asking myself where does government get power to create a private entity and give it financial obligations which it might need?” asked Tayebwa.
Tayebwa said he is concerned with the proposal by MPs to reinstate the Sugar Board saying this will be tasking government to charge the Consolidated Fund and finance the regulation of the sugar industry.
“I wonder whether that will not violate Article 93 of the Constitution. As a referee, I will need clarification from the Attorney General on those two questions so that I can do my work effectively,” Tayebwa said.
The Sugar (Amendment) Bill, 2023 seeks to introduce the Sugar Council and a new formula for calculating the prices of sugarcane sold to millers based on international standards.