Soroti, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) officials have been summoned to parliament to explain why the sh48billion Soroti fruit factory is yet to start operations, three years after it was built.
During the plenary sitting of Parliament on 21 February 2019, Kumi County MP Charles Ilukor raised the matter of repeated postponement of the opening of the factory, prompting the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, directing the Committee on Agriculture to carry out a fact finding visit to establish its status.
When the Committee chaired by, Janet Aketch Okori-moe (NRM, Abim district), visited the factory on 5 March, 2019, members expressed dissatisfaction with the information given by UDC and the factory management. Legislators questioned the utilization of the Shs5.4 billion, annually allocated to UDC to run the factory since 2009.
Okori-moe said that UDC was ill prepared and gave unsatisfactory responses to the members. The Committee summoned UDC for a follow up meeting at Parliament.
“We still feel there is something that has not been said in this meeting and that is why we are summoning UDC. When we are done with UDC, we shall summon the ministries of Agriculture and Trade,” said Okori-moe.
She added that the committee will expect UDC to prove that the facility has the capacity to start fruit processing, especially in regard to the availability of electricity.
“When we were touring the factory, the person leading us was saying that power is being rationed. He said that when one side is on, the other side is of. How prepared are you,” she said.
The Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Francis Gonahasa (FDC, Kabweri) advised government to partner with Israeli investors for the factory to commence operations, arguing that Israel is well known for its expertise in fruit processing.
UDC’s Senior Economist, Yudaya Kadodi, said that the factory is still in the hands of KOICA and cannot be commissioned to start operating.
She said that a Memorandum of Understanding between the agency and government runs up to December when the facility will be handed over.
The Chief Executive Officer Soroti Fruit Factory, Ronald Kigongo, said that opening of the factory was also delayed by a leakage in the treatment plant. He added that the factory is ready to start production and is sourcing for fruits.
“The challenge we are facing now is lack of fruits. We are trying to incorporate other farmers who are not part of the Teso Fruit Cooperative union to supply fruits,” said Kigongo.
The Chairperson of the farmers Union, Jerome Opian said that UDC is engaging private entities to supply fruits instead of relying only on the cooperative union with which they have an agreement.
The factory was constructed using a Shs48 billion grant from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), with the Teso Tropical Fruit Union and government through UDC owning 20 per cent and 80 per cent shares respectively. UDC is “the development and investment arm of government with the mandate to promote and facilitate the industrial and economic development of Uganda.”
Construction of the factory commenced in April 2015 and was scheduled to have been completed in 2016 to kick-start commercial production of processed mangoes and orange juice. The factory was meant to benefit from and use up the large quantities of mangoes and fruits grown in the area.