Kigezi Tea Farmers Dispute Embezzlement Accusations Against Attorney Kiconco Patrick Katabazi

By Sophan Niwamanya

Tea Nursery Bed Operators Seek Government Compensation Amid Embezzlement Controversy.

The Regional Chairperson of Tea Nursery Bed Operators in Southwestern Uganda, Byaruhanga Frank, has come forward to refute allegations of embezzlement that have engulfed their legal representative, Kiconco Patrick Katabazi. Katabazi stands accused of mishandling Sh 39 billion provided by NAADs (National Agricultural Advisory Services) to settle claims by tea farmers against the government. These claims stem from the government’s failure to purchase tea seedlings, causing significant financial losses to the farmers.

Addressing the issue during a gathering of tea nursery bed operators from Greater Kabale at the Kabale District Headquarters in Rukiko Hall, Kabale Municipality, Frank set the record straight. He explained that, as the regional committee of tea nursery bed operators, they had indeed received approximately Sh 39 billion from the government, which was then distributed to individual members. Frank emphasized that they have meticulous financial records as evidence of these transactions. Furthermore, it was revealed during the meeting that some members and their tea seedlings were inadvertently omitted during the previous verification exercise conducted by the Minister of Agriculture and NAADs, leading to incomplete compensation claims. Frank stressed that this oversight was not the fault of their lawyer, Katabazi, but rather an error on the part of NAADs.

During the meeting, it was agreed that a reconciliation meeting would be held with NAADs and the Ministry of Agriculture in Kampala to address the unconsidered claims. Additionally, a comprehensive document would be compiled during another meeting in Mbarara before the end of September to present to the central government for consideration. Members who were initially excluded from NAADs’ compensation list due to missed verification would now be included under the category of economic loss.

Following the meeting, Lawyer Katabazi maintained that none of the members had provided documents indicating that they did not receive the funds. He attributed the genesis of the conflict to a July 18th ruling that awarded $75 billion to tea nursery bed operators. This ruling raised concerns for Roland Bish, the Member of Parliament for Rukiga County, who sought to tarnish the association’s reputation and disrupt government transactions. Bish was particularly apprehensive about Katabazi receiving his legal fees, as it posed a potential challenge to his electoral prospects in the upcoming Parliamentary Sit elections in 2026.

Katabazi suggested that these conflicts were driven by political motivations, primarily Bish’s efforts to hinder progress in his constituency. Notably, farmers in Rukiga District had received over 4.3 billion, with Bish himself benefiting from a 200 million shillings allocation as a member of the same association. Katabazi underscored that his plans to run for a parliamentary seat in Rukiga District in 2026 were unrelated to the embezzlement allegations. Additionally, he pointed out that the conflict extended beyond him and Bish, as various Anglican and Catholic churches also benefited from tea farming.

In conclusion, the tea nursery bed operators are actively working towards resolving the compensation issue with the government while addressing any discrepancies that arose during the verification process. Meanwhile, lawyer Katabazi continues to maintain his innocence in the face of embezzlement allegations, stressing that the underlying conflict is primarily driven by political motives.