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Court Pushes Vinci Coffee Agreement Case to December for Determination

The lawyers asked the High Court to declare the actions of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development to handpick Vinci to solely manage the coffee business, set coffee prices and related products in disregard of able Ugandan firms, as an infringement on the right to own property and open competition as well as economic rights of coffee farmers in the country.
Lawyer Derrick Tukwasibwe together with one of the applicants Henry Byansi at the High Court.

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    The High Court in Kampala has fixed December 15th 2022 to decide on the legality of the agreement signed between the government and Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited to manage the production, export and setting of coffee prices in the country.

  Civil Division Judge Emmanuel Baguma fixed the date on Thursday evening when the case filed by lawyers Michael Aboneka and Henry Byansi came up for hearing before him.

Baguma first gave the parties in this case between today and October 31st, 2022 to have filed their written submissions showing why the case should be determined in their favor.

He later indicated that when the parties comply with his orders and timelines, he will be able to deliver his judgment via email on December 15th, 2022.

  On April 15th 2022, Aboneka and Byansi went to court challenging the agreement signed by Ramathan Ggoobi, the Secretary to the treasury on behalf of the government, and Enrica Pinetti, the Board Chairperson of Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Limited to process and export Uganda's coffee on grounds that it is illegal and irrational. The contested agreement was signed on February 10, 2022.

As such, the lawyers asked the High Court to quash it and to declare the actions of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development to handpick Vinci to solely manage the coffee business, set coffee prices and related products in disregard of able Ugandan firms, as an infringement on the right to own property and open competition as well as economic rights of coffee farmers in the country.

The agreement in issue grants Vinci exclusive rights to buy Uganda’s coffee before the government can look at other players. The agreement also exempts the company from import duty tax, stamp duty, value-added tax, National Social Security Fund, and pay as you earn for ten years. The company also reserves the right to determine the coffee prices in the country on top of enjoying electricity subsidies and other benefits.

  On Thursday, the Attorney General’s representative Commissioner George Kallemera informed the court that in their written submissions, they intend to ask the court to dismiss the case on a preliminary point of law on the basis that it is premature and the matters raised therein are not those that fall under the ambits of judicial review.

On his part, lawyer Gerald Batanda who was representing Vinci also agreed with Kallemera’s submissions adding that they will also argue that the case was wrongly brought before court since the applicants sued a private entity whose decision cannot be challenged by way of filing an application for judicial review.

Batanda argued that the High Court doesn’t have supervisory powers and jurisdiction to entertain such cases against private entities as far as the framework of judicial review matters is concerned.

  In June 2022  both Vinci and the government put in formal responses to the case asking for the case to be dismissed. 

The Attorney General while relying on an affidavit by the Acting Director of Economic Affairs in the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development, Moses Kaggwa indicated that the agreement doesn't give Vinci any authority to manage production, export, and set prices of coffee beans and its related products.

Kaggwa noted that all the required legal, administrative, and consultative processes were adhered to and the execution of the agreement by the government was informed by the overall government policy to invest in value addition and specifically agro-processing in line with the National Coffee Policy and National Coffee Act of 2021.

In their response, Vinci tabled evidence showing that Uganda exported 382,000 tonnes of coffee between May 2021 and April 2022 and that the International Coffee Organization indicates that Uganda has for the past two decades produced an average of 437,650 tonnes of coffee per year with 330,540 tonnes in the coffee year 2019-2020 alone.

This, the court heard, it makes it impossible for Vinci Company to obtain a monopoly over the management of the coffee business in Uganda when the maximum capacity of their project is 60,000 tonnes.

It is against this brief background that the Judge has asked the parties to expound on and make written submissions to enable him to come up with his decision on whether to quash the agreement or not.

In April the Sectoral Committee on Trade, Tourism, and Industry in Parliament unanimously called for the cancellation of the agreement on grounds that it contravened the constitution and other tax laws. One of the applicants Byansi wants the court to also rely on this report and quash the agreement.

  //Cue in: “Olwaleero tuze mukoti…//

Cue out: … ebintu ebyo,”//

English Audio

//Cue in: “Today we appeared …//

Cue out: ..the coffee industry,”//

 

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