By Patrick Kagenda
You have been accused of running down the chamber. What is happening?
That is not true. If anything I have done a lot to make the chamber an established institution. I found the chamber being run without functional structures, affiliated to the National Enterprises Corporation (NEC) and being used for political gain. I had to change all that and that is the source of all the accusations. Besides is it the chamber members who are complaining? No. It’s the people within the chamber administration who are making noise because I have sealed swindling avenues. If I am swindling the chamber money let them take me to court.
The whole thing is about embarrassing me because I am wife to the National Resistance Movement party national vice chairman and a woman; they feel I am unfit to head an organisation that was predominantly run by men. They forget that I was elected and not merely appointed.
How are you addressing this issue?
I want to leave a legacy. I am growing the chamber to a level that every member will be proud of. The chamber is not a personal property it is for members and I am running it with the full mandate of its members. I am answerable to the chamber members not to any individual.
What innovations have you brought to the Chamber?
We are running workshops, conferences, meetings, name it; we are exploring how the business community can create healthy employment considering the unemployment in our country. We are into partnership with the Islamic Chamber of Commerce where we are members because Uganda is a member of the Organisation of Islamic countries. We are doing a joint programme between the Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Uganda Chamber of Commerce, the Uganda Coffee Development Authority and the Islamic Development Bank which is going to finance the conformity bar for the forth coming conference on coffee processing that will be held in Uganda in October.
Your members are facing stifling competition from foreign traders especially Chinese and Indians who come in the name of investors only to end up trading in petty items like plastic shoes and pancakes. How are you resolving this?
It is a policy issue. We have a liberalised economy but there are no perimeters to demarcate the business boundaries. On our part as the chamber we are addressing that issue through sensitisation and workshops for our members to give them capacity. It is the responsibility of the government to put a policy in place. These people are welcome but they should not come in the name of investors. The people in immigration and those giving licenses should check. This issue calls for a joint effort between all of us as a community.
What is the history of the Uganda National chamber of commerce and industry and what is its mandate?
The Chamber dates back to 1933. At that time the economy was dominated by Asians and some few British. The Chamber grew and remained vibrant up to until 1971 when then President Idi Amin expelled the Asians and the economy headed for collapse. The chamber of commerce was revived in the 1980`s as the sole business organisation. Its mandate includes training of the business community especially the SMEs , disseminate business related information to the members in terms of advocacy, delivery and giving trade and business related services. Its membership is countrywide. It is represented 90% countrywide. What makes us different from the other business organisations is that we are a membership based organization because we don’t have a budget from the government where as the other organisations like Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), Private Sector Foundation of Uganda, Enterprise Uganda, Makerere University Private Sector Forum, and others have budgets.
There seems to be a lot of duplication of services between your Chamber, UIA, and other organisations .What are your working relations?
We have excellent working relations with the UIA and all the other business organisations. Uganda has a liberalised economy and there is no policy to stop business organisations from forming. We have a sit on all boards of our sister organisations because in the end they will always come down to trade where our members are the majority. We are for the promotion of the local business community.
How do you survive without a budget?
We depend on member contributions and well wishers like SIDA, KfW of Germany USAID and other international agencies. Our chamber is not only locally based. We are affiliated to the international chambers of commerce and trade. Because of our international connections and our nature, we are the only business organisation in the country with a multi-sectoral membership. That is how we raise funds to run our operations.