PARLIAMENT– Billions of money have been wasted after a tomato processing plant in Nakaseke District remains grounded for two years.
The plant owned by Bulemezi 2014 Ltd was commissioned by President Museveni in February 2014, under Namunkekera Agro-Processing Industries Ltd, one of the presidential initiatives to boost livelihoods and household income through industrialisation.
Located 2 kilometres from Kapeeka Town, the factory whose assets are valued at Shs 700 million with a capacity to employ over 2, 000 people closed after only one year of operation.
Ms Toni Kamwesiga, the company’s managing director told members of Parliament’s Committee on Government Assurances and Implementation who visited the firm on Wednesday that the closure followed lack of market for tomato paste.
“We need the tomato paste but the market is not there locally and yet the export market demanded for more a compressed product that would not be manufactured here,” she said.
Ms Kamwesiga also told MPs that production was undertaken for some time before it was halted.
“We even destroyed most of the [unprocessed] tomatoes because we had nowhere to keep them since there was virtually no market,” Ms Kamwesiga said.
The committee was headed by its vice chairperson Latif Ssebaggala (Ind-Kawempe North) on a fact -finding tour on presidential pledges in Nakaseke and Luweero districts.
Mr Ssebaggala said that it was unfortunate for the factory to close prematurely, while Parliament has on several occasions approved loans for its operation.
“We have [as parliament] always received loan requests for this factory and one can only wonder where this money ends up,” Mr Sebbaggala said.
He said that the committee would probe the factory’s management to establishment the extent of rot and also unveil faces behind its dysfunction.
Area Members of Parliament Mr Paulson Luttamaguzi Semakula (DP-Nakaseke South) and Sarah Najjuma (NRM-Nakaseke Woman) expressed concern, dismissing the reckless manner under which the factory collapsed.
“Many people had a lot of hope in the factory and now all the farmers are disappointed after making losses to grow tomatoes,” Mr Luttamaguzi.
According to the lawmakers, many people had invested heavily hoping to reap reliable income by tapping into the ready market potential that had been presented by the ministry.
Meanwhile, the committee learnt that despite being a presidential initiative several pledges by President Museveni to support the factory had never been met.
“When we commissioned it, the president promised to support us but he was not particular on the amounts……….and no commitment has ever been fulfilled,” Ms Kamwesigwa said.
Ms Kamwesigwa also told members that after the factory stumbled, they shifted to processing mango juice which venture also closed within a year, bringing the factory’s operations to a standstill in 2015.
But Mr Don Wanyama the Senior Presidential Press Sectary told Daily Monitor that the closure should be blamed on the factory’s management and not the president.
He dismissed allegations of limited market for tomato paste as a feigned lie to escape blame.
“That is a scapegoat. With the entire tomato source being imported to the country you just cannot claim that there is no market…I think the management is trying to hide from its failures,” he said.
Mr Wanyama also said that accounting officers were damaging the president’s name by failing to manage projects under the presidential initiative, only to lament later.
“If the president puts up such a facility with the start-up capital, it does not mean that facility must be dependent on the president,” Mr Wanyama said.
The committee also visited other facilities including Semuto Health Centre IV in Nakaseke district and Kasana Health Centre IV which remain severe deaths traps despite outstanding presidential pledges.
Only Nakaseke hospital was in a better shape after receiving Shs5 billion for refurbishment.