By Max Patrick Ocaido
Parliament has adopted a select committee report to pay Ugandan traders who had claims against the government of South Sudan before unrest.
The House Thursday agreed that the 40 Ugandan companies whose payment had been approved by the Ministry of Finance and Planning of South Sudan, amounting to $207,151,324 (about Shs778bn) be provided for in the Budget of the FY 2019/20.
MPs also adopted the committee recommendation to pay after verification 42 other companies whose claims total to $45,288,312 (about Shs170bn). The 42 companies will be paid by Ugandan government after a joint verification exercise as per the bilateral agreement between Ugandan and South Sudan government.
“It is the considered view of the committee that government should find money in the budget and urgently meet this obligation. In the event that the budget cannot accommodate this at ago, then Government should explore possibilities of obtaining the said funds from the domestic financial market and expedite the process settling the claims and also remedy the fast accumulation of interests and on loans that some of the traders owe local financial institutions,” the report says.
MPs also agreed that the Ministry of Finance urgently disburse the loan balance of $30,750,996 under the sovereign guarantee to the intended beneficiaries in order to build confidence and assure the South Sudan government that it is committed to the terms of the Bilateral Agreement.
The legislators also adopted the committee recommendation to ensure that government writes off tax arrears owed by the traders in distress to Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) as a form of direct support to enable them to restart their enterprises and also avert possible action against them by URA for failure to meet statutory obligations as required given their current business situation.
On 6th March 2019, Parliament established a select committee headed by Anna Nankabirwa to inquire into the payment of the Uganda-South Sudan traders. Among others, the select committee was required to establish the status of verification of all outstanding claims against the Government of South Sudan by the Uganda-South Sudan traders.
This comes after MPs raised concerns in regards to the criteria of selection of the first 10 beneficiaries that were compensated for their supplies made to the government of South Sudan before war erupted in 2010. According to the bilateral agreement, South Sudan government will refund Ugandan government for all the claims made.
During the Thursday debate, a section of MPs still questioned why several other traders/companies have been left out of the list of those that are scheduled to be compensated. The MPs added that only ‘giant’ companies have been listed for compensation and less privileged companies have been left out.
“These big ones who are on the list, where are their export documents that they exported? You can’t pay where insurance exists. People lost property but these on the list are just colluding to steal us. These guys are just a group of criminals, these are people cheating us, we shouldn’t allow this good money to go,” Nandala Mafabi (Budadiri West) said.
Deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah urged Uganda-South Sudan traders who do not have substantive documents or contracts with South Sudan government to submit the little documents for consideration in the next phrase of compensation saying that, “the process is not ending today or tomorrow, so companies that supplied to South Sudan or its agencies should submit their documents. Some of those with little or no documents should also be looked at as recommended by the committee.”