Ugandans in rage as ministers babble over sugar prices

Anger is slowly brewing on social media after a minister was reportedly quoted saying she was in favour of increasing sugar prices as a measure for checking the diabetes scourge.

The Health ministry has been on spot for allegedly rejecting a proposal by the finance ministry to cut taxes on sugar confectioneries and non-alcoholic drinks suggested by the minister of state for Planning, David Bahati.

Bahati, according to this report, argued that cutting the 20 per cent excise duty on chewing gum, sweets and confectionaries would reduce the increasing sugar prices.

To the contrary, Health minister, Jane Ruth Aceng, is quoted to have said that sugar confectionaries were responsible for the increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer and heart diseases.

She suggested that Uganda should go back to the days when sugar was a luxury if cases of diabetes and obesity are to be avoided.

At the moment, a kilogramme of unpacked sugar that has been selling at Shs4,600 has now jumped to Shs5,800, whereas the packed sugar is now selling at Shs7,000 up from Shs6,000.

This is partly blamed on Kakira Sugar and Lugazi Sugar that closed their factories for routine maintenance leaving only Kinyara Sugar Works Limited to supply sugar.

When a kilogramme of sugar jumped to Shs5,000 last year, Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde promised that government was going to import some sugar to fill the gap.

The price slightly reduced to Shs4,800 only for five months.

After meeting Uganda Sugar Manufacturer director and distributors yesterday, minister Kyambadde issued a directive to cap the price of a kilo of sugar at Shs5,000.

Kyambadde revealed that manufacturers shall provide the ministry with monthly stock levels, which will streamline the supply of sugar.

She attributed the rise in sugar prices to the prolonged drought, harvesting of immature sugar cane and the export of 300,000 metric tonnes to Kenya and 40,000 metric tonnes to Rwanda.

In April this year, Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association (USMA) said the increase in sugar prices was prompted by the increase in cost of production and the deprecating shillings against major currencies.

The Association’s Chairperson, Jim Kabeho, told Uganda Radio Network (URN) that sugar millers were forced to announce what he called a paltry 4% increase on each 50-kilogram bag on ex-factory price.

The increase, according to Kabeho, saw a 50-kilogramme bag of sugar trading at Shs180,000 up from Shs170,000.

Kabeho in a letter dated 10th April 2017 was responding to a letter by minister Kyambadde demanding an explanation why there has been an increase in ex-factory and retail prices of sugar.

In 2011, a kilo of sugar for the first time hit the Shs5000 mark leading to the infamous opposition leaders protest under the Walk-to Work slogan.

Ugandans are now running a “sugar campaign” on social media calling upon others not to buy the sugar but instead kill the demand through posters like this:

“Don’t buy that Sugar kill the demand! Once these traders see demand going down prices will go down! Simple just! Unlike in other communities where People cut down on expenditure in times like these, here in Uganda we spend more which motivates the traders to even raise the prices more! DON’T BUY THE SUGAR! It even fastens the multiplication of cancer cells in your body. Prices will go down!”

According to Dr Mike Ibrahim Okumu, a lecturer at the School of Economics, Makerere University, the Sugar Bill 2016 that is before cabinet for review, may hold answers to this calamity.

Some of solutions that Bill puts across is; determination of the minimum price of outgrower sugarcane per MT and setting of the 25km radius from one sugar mill to the other to abate sugarcane poaching.

He suggests controlling the price payable to outgrowers sugarcane [although not the optimal choice] saying a price determination formula should be developed which considers sugarcane as a raw material for electricity, sugar, ethanol, molasses besides taking care of inflation.

The sugar crisis is not a Ugandan issue alone; even the neighbouring Kenya is suffering the same.

According to Standard Media Kenya, early this week, Kenyans living in Busia County crossed to Uganda to buy sugar, milk, maize and wheat flour.

Retail shops in Uganda are selling 1 kilogramme of sugar at KSh150 compared to local supermarkets in Busia where it goes at KSh200.

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