News and Views

State House warns Otafiire over sugar talk

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State House yesterday warned Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire against defying President Museveni’s directive banning politicians from trading in sugar, on a day the minister lost a key application to secure 25 containers of sugar impounded in Mombasa, Kenya, five years ago.

Presidential Spokesman Tamale Mirundi while responding to remarks by Gen. Otafiire that he would not abandon his sugar business despite the presidential directive said the minister “knows how generals are arrested.” “You cannot defy an executive order and remain in government,” he said.

“The President is not talking about Otafiire as a sugar dealer but where does he get his sugar? If he has been arm-twisting then there would be a problem. The President’s message is that whoever has been dealing in arm-twisting should find something better to do,” Mr Tamale Mirundi said.

Mr Museveni, without mentioning Gen. Otafiire or any other politician’s name, on Tuesday directed the Trade Minister, Ms Amelia Kyambadde, to stop manufacturers and importers from selling sugar to politicians, and likened the dealers to Amin’s ministers whom he said are becoming greedy speculators who are charging exorbitant prices.

A day later, Gen. Otafiire said he would not leave the sugar business because he is a known dealer. The President’s directive also came a day after Daily Monitor reported Gen. Otafiire’s fight in Kenyan courts to salvage the sugar he had distanced himself from four years ago, but now claims that some powerful Kenyan politicians intended to steal from him.

In Mombasa, Gen. Otafiire’s lawyers yesterday lost a bid to cross examine the Legal Affairs Director of Mumias Sugar Company, Ms Emily Otieno, on the contents of her affidavit in respect to a sugar dispute between the minister and the manufacturer.
The Kenyan High Court dismissed Gen. Otafiire’s application, saying it amounted to an ambush on the part of Mumias Sugar Company and that would continue to delay the matter.

“The interested party has been in possession of the affidavit since May this year and therefore had sufficient time to make the application for cross examination. To grant the application would be prejudicial to the plaintiff and will delay the matter further,” Judge Hannah Okwengu ruled.

Gen. Otafiire, who runs Arua Mercantile Ltd, through his attorney, Mr Japheth Asige had sought to cross examine Ms Otieno to clarify certain issues in her statement. Gen. Otafiire’s quest to salvage the impounded sugar worth Shs986m has been caught up in a presidential directive banning politicians from selling sugar.

When this newspaper reported the story in 2007, Gen. Otafiire, then the local government minister denied any links with the sugar consignment and took the matter to court claiming defamation. The matter was later settled out of court. The minister claimed that the sugar imports belonged to a former employee of his who he declined to name.

Details linking the minister to the sugar deal started coming out earlier this year when the court case in which Mumias Sugar wants the sugar impounded because the consignment from the United Arab Emirates were packed in Mumias branded bags to make it appear as if they were locally produced to evade taxes.

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