KAMPALA – Finance Minister, Hon Matia Kasaija has been instructed by Parliament to fast-track payment of South Sudan traders within 10 days.
The instructions come after a short-lived but intense debate on the matter following revelations by Kasaija in a statement to Parliament that the payment may, after all, have to wait for longer.
“No one has come with a resolution to rescind our motion; the Minister of Finance has to pay the traders of South Sudan and if you don’t, we know how to deal with you; come back with a report to the House on this issue in 10 days,” said Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who was in the Chair.
Kasaija sought refuge in alleged lack of resources to effect the payments, which were shot down by MPs who insisted appropriations were already made.
“I am not saying we shall not pay; all I am saying is that the government runs a cash budget; yes you appropriated but all the money has not been released; if the cash is not available, we cannot have it,” he said.
A section of Ugandan traders who supplied goods and services to the government of South Sudan hit a snag following the South Sudan government’s failure to pay its creditors due to bankruptcy fuelled by years of civil-ethnic strife.
After petitioning President Museveni, the traders were promised payment, subject to a bi-lateral agreement between Juba and Kampala to the effect that Uganda would pay the monies subject to joint verification and South Sudan would reimburse as soon as their economy recovers.
As fate would have it, however, the US$41 million payment immediately got shrouded with controversy following claims and counterclaims of fraud, especially contestations on the validity of the list of companies that were to benefit from the first round of payments.
The payment of the first batch of US$10 million was stopped after a letter by President Museveni directed Minister Kasaija and Secretary to Treasury Keith Muhakanizi to make another verification of the claimants that were already listed for payment.
Museveni froze payments which added a new twist to the controversy-sustained court wrangles and orders of mandamus threatening Muhakanizi with civil prison should he fail to effect the payments as directed by court.
But Muhakanizi stuck to his gun saying no payment would be made without prior verification as instructed by President Museveni.
Dokolo District MP Cecilia Ogwal who followed the payments, questioned the motive behind the move by a section of the claimants to rush to court and have an injunction against verifying them as directed by the President.
“Why would the 10 companies that went to court not want to be verified yet the government is willing to pay them after verification? There must be justice,” she said.
Kasaija said local traders demand government up to a trillion shillings in domestic arrears, and Shs3 trillion in court awards that he said will be paid in due course.