MPs in Secret Meet with BAT Officials Over Tobacco Control Bill Top story

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In short
Now, it is emerging that during the visit to Hoima the legislators also secretly met BAT officials on Wednesday and Thursday. Lulume Bayiga, the shadow health minister says the BAT officials presented their position on the Tobacco Control bill 2014 to the legislators.

It has emerged that officials from the British American Tobacco-BAT company have secretly met members of key parliamentary committees to lobby them against passing the Tobacco Control bill 2014, which is before parliament. The implicated legislators are from the Parliamentary Committee on Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Budget committee and Natural resources committee. Last week, legislators on the three committees visited Bunyoro Kingdom to brief the Omukama Solomon Gafabusa Iguru on Oil royalties in respect to the Public Finance Bill. 

Now, it is emerging that during the visit to Hoima the legislators also secretly met BAT officials on Wednesday and Thursday.  Lulume Bayiga, the shadow health minister says the BAT officials presented their position on the Tobacco Control bill 2014 to the legislators. The Tobacco Control bill was tabled before parliament by Dr Chris Baryomunsi, the Kinkizi East MP as a private member’s bill. According to Bayiga, it was unlawful for BAT officials to secretly meet Mps arguing that Uganda ratified the WHO framework on Tobacco Control in 2007, which lays down specific grounds that must be followed as enshrined in article 5.3 of the WHO framework.
 
He explains that this particular article limits the interaction of government officials or public officials with proponents of the Tobacco industry because the Tobacco industry is very powerful and influences policy makers negatively. He also notes that the framework bans tobacco companies from getting involved in any cooperate social responsibility and also provides that policies set by government should not in any way help the Tobacco industry because the industry harvest a lot and  it also engineers a lot of killing of citizens.

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A source within the committee told URN that while leaving Kampala, the legislators were only aware of the meeting with the Omukama of Bunyoro, but they were surprised on Wednesday when they received the BAT program. According to the source, it appears only Robert Kasule, the Finance committee chairperson was aware of the BAT meeting. The source says that each MP received an allowance of 160,000 shillings for a night at Kolping Hotel and Kontir.
 
The MPs were also reportedly treated to a Cocktail dinner and given out of pocket allowances. Uganda Radio Network accessed a copy of BAT’s program titled a field visit to Bunyoro (Tobacco Operations) by Parliamentary Committee on Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Committee on Budget and Committee on Natural Resources. BAT met the MPs for two days starting on Wednesday 12th March 2014 at Kolping Hotel and on 13th March 2014 at the BAT Offices. The MPs also visited Bunyoro Tobacco Fields and BAT projects.
 
In the two days program, BAT also presented to the MPs a fact sheet of British American Tobacco Uganda Ltd, an outlook of the Tobacco Industry in Uganda and Analysis of the possible implications of the Tobacco Control Bill, 2014. BAT expressed concern that, passed in its current form, the Tobacco Control Bill, 2014 would cause a loss of export revenues, threaten the current investments of Tobacco Companies in Uganda, lead to the reduction of the tax contributions of approximately 105 billion shillings, impact negatively on the Government Agenda to expand the tax base, growth of illicit trade and severely affect farmers.
 
Diana Apio, the BAT Coperate and Regulatory Affairs Manager dismisses allegations that BAT secretly met MPs saying that the meeting was official. She says they requested for a meeting with the Finance Committee Chairperson on 6th March 2014 following last year’s debate in the House on Tobacco Taxes and Excise. She noted that during this debate the Speaker made a directive that there was a need for the Finance Committee to meet BAT and see its investments, scope and the tax implication on the Company.
 

Apio noted that it was after this directive that BAT formally wrote to the Finance Committee Chairperson Robert Kasule Ssebunya requesting for a formal meeting with the Committee to make their submissions on the National Budget Consultations. She noted that the Committee Chairperson wrote back to BAT informing them of the recent Committee visit to Bunyoro saying that it would be a right opportunity for BAT to meet and engage the Committee on the taxes. She noted that BAT’s meeting with the Committee was only on the basis of this background and that the meeting was not intended to block the Tobacco Control Bill, 2014.

Apio noted that before BAT made a request for the meeting, they were not even yet aware of the recent tabling of the Tobacco Control Bill, 2014 in the House and that the Tobacco Control bill was surprise to BAT insisting that the meeting was coincidental. She further noted as a company operating in the country BAT has a right to meet with the stake holders in the market saying that there were a lot of mixed feeling on the taxes BAT gives the country. Robert Kasule, the Chairperson of the Finance Committee has not yet commented as he known contact was not available.

 

About the author

Olive Nakatudde
Olive Nakatudde is a URN journalist based in Kampala. Nakatudde has been a URN staff member since 2013.

Nakatudde started out in journalism in 2009 with Dembe FM radio in Kampala. In 2012, Nakatudde joined Voice of Africa as a political reporter. She has been a photographer since her journalism school days at Makerere University.

Nakatudde is interested in good governance and public policy, which she reports on intensively from the Uganda Parliament. She is a keen follower of cultural affairs in Buganda Kingdom and covers the kingdom's Lukiiko (parliament). Nakatudde also reports on education and health.