Lawmakers warn government against continued financial support for Atiak sugar mill :: Uganda Radionetwork

Philip Polly Okin Ojara, the Chua West lawmaker, told reporters at a Monday press briefing in Gulu City that it was unwise for the government to continue pumping money into an unprofitable business.

A section of Acholi sub-region legislators have warned the government against providing additional funds to the Atiak sugar factory in Atiak sub-county, Amuru district. This follows the temporary closure of the sugar factory, just two years after the start of sugar production for export and domestic consumption.

The Atiak Sugar factory owned by Horyal Investment Holding Company Ltd with 56% stake and the government with 44% stake temporarily shut down its operations in May this year due to a shortage of sugar canes.

But lawmakers in the region say the plant’s closure came just six months after the government allocated 108 billion shillings in a supplementary budget to fund its operation.

Philip Polly Okin Ojara, the Chua West lawmaker, told reporters at a Monday press briefing in Gulu City that it was unwise for the government to continue pumping money into an unprofitable business. He says the purpose of the factory was to help small growers in the area prosper, but since it began production, the small growers, the majority of whom are former Resistance Army abductees of the Lord, have not been paid for the cultivation of sugar cane.

Okin says the government should stop funding the plant until the investor with the largest share shows proof of how much he has invested without relying on the government’s 44 percent stake.

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According to Okin, the government has so far injected more than 300 billion shillings into the plant, but little is visible in terms of impact on the community in northern Uganda.

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For example, in 2017 the government injected 62 billion shillings into the plant, followed by another 20 billion shillings in May 2018, in which it acquired a 10% stake. In July 2018, the government added another 45 billion shillings, increasing its stake to 32%. In 2019, the government injected another 24 billion shillings, followed by a supplementary budget of 108 billion shillings which was approved in November last year.

Hundreds of smallholders in the area, the majority of whom are former Lord’s Resistance Army abductees from Amuru and Lamwo districts, have also filed complaints for non-payment for labor they have provided in the cultivation of sugar cane.

Affected smallholders say that while they had been promised payments after selling sugarcane for five years, three years have now passed without receiving a single coin from the government. Rose Mary Acan, one of the members of the Atiak Sugar Cane Farmers Association alleges that the government owes her 60 million shillings for the work she provided in the sugar cane plantation between 2018 and 2021. Achan, who is HIV-positive, says the sugar cane they planted as a group has been sold three times, but no payment has been given to them.

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Olga Acayo, another aggrieved farmer, also accuses the government of selectively paying small producers who participated in the cultivation of sugar cane for the Atiak Sugar factory. She says a number of times they have been thrown at the issue with no success yet recorded. A total of 3,200 former LRA abductees who were selected as smallholders in Lamwo and Amuru districts have yet to receive their payments from the government.

1,200 of the smallholders come from Amuru and Nwoya districts, 400 from Lamwo and 1,600 from Gulu and Omoro districts. Gilbert Olanya, Kilak South legislator, says they are demanding that the government expedite the payment of war victims who have volunteered labor since the factory was established.

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Olanya notes that they have also established that many people who are not victims of the war have been paid while the legitimate beneficiaries are still waiting to receive their payment.

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Hamilton Jackson Ogwang, the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) zonal agricultural development officer in charge of Atiak, acknowledges the late payments of some of the smallholders. He notes, however, that successive fires and the underutilization of available land for growing cane have left other growers unable to benefit from the proceeds of cane sales.

For example, in Atiak sub-county, of the 13,481 acres of land to be developed, only 7,906 acres were used for sugar cane cultivation, while in Lamwo only 4,994 acres were used. . Dr. Amina Hersi Moghe, Managing Director of Horyal Investments Holding Company Ltd, the entity behind Atiak Sugar Factory, told URN in an earlier interview that shortage of raw materials was hampering the operations of the factory.

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