The embattled Minister is yet to back off traders in the rice importation sector after she ordered the arrest and imprisonment of fellow traders in Mutukula over unclear charges well related to rice deals last month.
The State Minister of Trade Harriet Ntabazi who recently was recommended to be investigated for abuse of office and corruption has arrested dozens of rice traders who she has kept in police cells on unclear charges.
According to our sources, the traders who attended a meeting of rice traders last month in Mutukula that was centered on finding a lasting solution to the new rice tonne licenses fees saw Gerland Kawuma and Busuluwa Lawman query Minister Harriet with tough questions among which accused her of having purported open up her own company named Rice Agribusiness Development Foundation (RADFO) as an apex body with autonomous powers to import rice, which the traders said was fleecing them and frustrating rice trade and also locking out other traders in the rice business.
This didn’t go well with the minister, after the meeting, the minister took advantage of the trader’s protests and accused traders present in the meeting of having stolen her bag that she claimed contained 250,000 UGX and 2000 USD.
With her security details in place, she ordered the arrest of a group of traders among them Gerland Kawuma and Busuluwa Lawman, she has since kept them jailed at the border police post without being dragged to court for close to three weeks.
In April 2022, Ntabazi issued a directive to the Commissioner, Customs Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) where she directed the authority to stop clearing Value Added Tax (VAT) exempted rice imports at the borders.
This directive prompted rice traders, specifically the Kampala Rice Traders Association to petition Parliament to intervene, claiming this directive was unfair and repugnant.
The committee chairperson, Mwine Mpaka said Ntabazi acted unfairly when she issued directives to URA to stop rice imports without giving rice traders a fair hearing.
He said that Ntabazi exceeded her powers and issued orders that distorted trade orders in the rice trade.
“The minister of State for Trade, Hon. Harriet Ntabazi’s actions tantamount to abuse of office, corruption, facilitating corrupt transactions with agents, bribery, influence peddling, conflict of interest which are all crimes provided for under the anti-corruption Act of 2009,” the committee report read in part.
We have established by the close of business today the said traders among others are still behind police cells as Minister Harriet Nabatazi continues to give orders to frustrate their freedom and release.
They have been kept in police cells for more than 48 hours something that has frustrated the voice of other traders who have gotten dissenting views.
Our efforts to pick a comment from the police spokesperson have been futile over the same by the time of this story.
The traders accused Rice Agribusiness Development Foundation (RADFO) of conniving with URA officials to fleece the rice importers of Shs180,000 per ton which is exorbitant compared to Shs40,000 per ton that they used to pay before this new directive.