Finance Minister Matia Kasaija has tasked the newly-formed Uganda Free Zones Authority (UFZA) to create a friendly environment for investors in a bid to increase the country’s exports and create jobs for the unemployed youth.
Speaking last Friday during the swearing-in ceremony of UFZA’s board of directors at the ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Kasaija appealed to the six-man team to reduce on the red tape associated with approving projects from foreign investors.
“You are the pioneer team that is charged with the responsibility to spearhead the development of a new concept in this country - the development of free zones. Please provide a law that makes an environment free of long bureaucratic processes,” Kasaija said.
The board is chaired by Dr Fredrick Kiwanuka, with Dr Margaret Bbanga as his vice. Representative members include Lawrence Byensi (Uganda Investment Authority), Baker Mugaino (Uganda Land Commission), Cleopas Ndorere (ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives) and Stella Nyapendi, from Uganda Revenue Authority.
Kasaija, however, cautioned the board on fake investors who fleece government of money.
“Some of them [investors] come in sheep skins yet they are wolves,” Kasaija said, in reference to unscrupulous individuals who pose as investors but end up asking for money from government after getting incentives.
Formed under the Free Zones Act 2014, UFZA is mandated to help both foreign and local investors to set up industries and enterprises in the special economic zones such as those created in the districts of Rakai, Luweero and Nakaseke.
In executing its mandate, UFZA will work closely with the Uganda Revenue Authority and Uganda Investment Authority. By inaugurating the UFZA board, Kasaija noted that Uganda was moving on the right path to achieving her Vision 2040, which targets to increase the country’s exports.
Kasaija stated that the implementation of the free zones programme is envisaged to increase both the export volumes and diversify Uganda’s exports in the process, which will reduce the current trade deficit.
According to 2013/14 statistics, Uganda’s value of exports of goods and services amounted to $5.4bn compared to imports worth $7.9bn, resulting into a trade deficit of $2.5bn in the past financial year.
The minister is optimistic that free zones, whose products are specifically for export and are non-taxable, could trigger Uganda’s export growth and diversification, create jobs, boost foreign direct investments and exchange earnings.
While commissioning Turkish firm ASB Group’s $300m dairy and beef investment project in Kaweweta in Nakaseke district last year, President Museveni declared the area a free zone that government was using to create a conducive atmosphere for foreign direct investment.
Museveni believes that free zones will also stimulate growth in the countryside.