Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has overseen an agreement between fish maw traders and government after months of contestations.
In a meeting at Parliament, the second in two months, Kadaga asked the Ministries of Agriculture, Finance and the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) to conclusively address challenges faced by fish maw traders.
“As Parliament, we shall not be part of any arrangement that impoverishes Ugandans and favours foreigners. What is illegal about having fish maws; you want these traders to cut these fish maws from trees?” said Kadaga.
The Uganda Fish Maw Traders Association presented a petition before Kadaga accusing the army of brutality, and government of multiple taxation among other accusations.
Agriculture Minister, Hon Vincent Ssempijja led technocrats from his Ministry and a host of UPDF officers to state their case before the petitioners.
The Finance Ministry, which was tasked to explain allegations of multiple taxation, was represented by Finance State Minister (General Duties), Hon Gabriel Ajedra.
The accusatory meeting commenced with an elaborate submission from Mr Charles Tebandeke, the petitioners’ Secretary.
“…the petitioners’ rights to freely trade or deal in fish maws has been indirectly taken away and side-lined in favour of foreigners by discriminative policies [sic] by the Ministry of Agriculture,” said Tebandeke.
“Some of the petitioners have been tortured, maimed and violently subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment by fisheries protection forces,” he added.
Tebandeke said many were subjected to “corporal punishment, confiscation of fish maw stock and disposal under unclear circumstances”.
Ssempijja, who praised the army’s intervention in the fishing industry, admitted gaps in the law, which he said government is addressing.
Ssempijja said a draft of the said law, already approved by Cabinet, is already before the Solicitor General and will be fast tracked to address any uncertainties.
“As far as the Ministry is concerned, we have no intention of getting people out of business. The problem is that generally, the fish maw issues have not been known to the government,” he said.
“They don’t have a specific regulation. Government is going to come up with its own stand on fish maws…the new Bill will streamline all issues; it is already before the Solicitor General who will soon come up with a draft,” he added.
In the meantime, the meeting agreed, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture will issue temporary guidelines to cater for the traders as the law is made.
Lt Col James Nuwagaba, one of the Commanding Officers in the Lake Victoria operation, defended the army and accused the petitioners of “lies and exaggerations”.
Nuwagaba accused the petitioners of deception and malice, but said going forward, they need to work together and refrain from escalating the situation.
Fish maws, locally known as ennuuni, became lucrative following the rise of its price on the international market.
On top of being a critical ingredient in glue manufacturing, its soup is a delicacy in China.
President Museveni previously warned fishermen against crowding the lake, saying the army will deal with them, blackmail notwithstanding.