Dr Frank B Sebbowa, Executive Director of the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), discusses Uganda’s attraction as an investment destination, the UIA’s goal to become a one-stop shop for investors
What are some of the biggest challenges that UIA faces?
Working on many things with a small budget can sometimes be straining. Attracting investors (especially those from the US) is also a challenge. Their perception of Africa deters them from investing heavily here. For big investors, we market Uganda as part of the East African Community (EAC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
How has the recent oil discovery affected the Ugandan international exposure?
Oil has helped a lot. We have confirmed reserves. Our neighbors have also found confirmed reserves. We hope that this trend will continue. Because oil is finite, we hope to reinvest its revenues in more sustainable sectors such as agriculture (particularly, in value-addition), the minerals sector (the country has a lot of minerals such as gold, rare earth, etc.), and other sectors we believe should be beneficiaries of oil and gas (O&G).
Agriculture continues to be the backbone of the Ugandan economy. What should be done to strengthen it further?
We should bring commercial farming to the level that it should be. We should explore the installation of irrigation systems, manufacturing systems, and so on.
Uganda offers several attractive incentives and benefits to investors.
Yes, Uganda is one of the most investor-friendly countries in this continent (if not, the world). We have the laws to protect investors, and to ensure that their investments are safe and that they can repatriate their profits as they see fit. Likewise, their expatriate staff can come in easily. Uganda has the right incentives for them to invest in the country.
UIA’s mission is to be a one-stop entrance for investors in the country.
Yes, we are trying to be a one-stop center for investors here. Already, we have some 5 or so agencies that are connecting with investors. The government has directed that this should be enhanced, both with physical staff and electronic systems. That is what we are trying to implement over the next 3 or 4 months. The Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) is represented here in UIA, allowing people to manage their taxes much easily. We have the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), which allows you to register your company, and the Directorate of Immigration, and Citizen Control (DICC) that handles the needed work permits. We also have the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) on the environmental requirements. The Minister of Land (ML) has also assigned a registrar to guide people on land issues. Most of them are here part-time, but if we can have them here full-time, we can truly have a one-stop center.
We understand that you are working towards an e-Government System.
The government has directed an instrument that is also electronically viable. It allows you to do some of the things that you need to do before you get to the country.
At present, if you have all the documentations that the law requires, you can get an investment license, wherever you are, electronically. However, you will still require other aspects to come, and we are working on that so that they can be accomplished online.
How much time do you shave off from the old way of setting up a business?
That depends on the kind of business you have. Back in the day, to register your company, you need at least 2 days to address the taxation issues. Here, we can give you your investment license in 24 hours. To register a company name, you have to make sure that it is unique and that nobody else has registered the same name. That normally takes 2 days—1 day to search and another to determine that you can have it. After you complete the necessary payments, the name is yours. Sometimes, people come and the name that they want to register has been taken, so they have to restart the process all over again. That is where bottlenecks start.
How is the UIA working with the various Ministries to give a coherent and synchronized message to the foreign investors?
Frankly, I think it is a difficult task to work with the various Ministries to send a single message because they represent different sectors. What we have done is to ask them to give us their priority areas. We then compile all of these into a document that we will post online. Every quarter, we ask them to update the list of projects they want to highlight.
We have Team Uganda (TU), which is a group of technocrats (of government and agencies that are important for investment). We need to review the investment climate quarterly to ensure that we are not a bottleneck in the investment attraction process. We have about 31 government agencies that have to do with investment.
How are you looking to market the investment opportunities that you have here?
Apart from our web presence, we go to various embassies to distribute our marketing materials. When the budget allows for it, we attend the various investment forums outside of the country. Not long ago, we have been to Japan and Holland. We hope to be at the 2015 Milan Expo.
We have activities by groups formed by the Ugandan diaspora that highlight investment opportunities. They target the members of the diaspora and the communities in which they live.
We will be represented at Uganda North-American Association (UNA) in Boston, the UK-Uganda Convention (UUC) in September, and other platforms for country branding.
Uganda and the US have a strong partnership in the area of security. How are you leveraging these existing ties?
While we are keen on exploring the possibilities in this area, people in the security sector normally deal with security agencies. It is all very stringent and confidential. Among the African countries, we get delegations from national armies. We would be happy for them to come here and we talk about investment opportunities.
Are you looking to expand these ties to cover the economy?
As you know, we are a part of the system for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). There is also the new trade agreement (TA) between the US and East Africa. We are part of the negotiating team representing Uganda to make sure that this TA covers our interests, as well, as the US trades with the EAC.
Will the UIA be at the first African Summit (AS) hosted by US Pres. Obama?
The country’s participation is coordinated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and we are committed members on preparations. Maybe we need a specific method in promoting investment in the country.
How would you brand Uganda?
Uganda is at the center of the East African market. At the heart of Africa, it is definitely a good place for investment. It is land-linked, which opens you up to the EAC and COMESA markets.
Our environment is good, but our people are the best.
Speaking of the private sector, which companies would you like to highlight?
Stanbic Bank is one of our better performing entities. They have really gone out on a limb to work with us in promoting the country. Likewise, Standard Chartered Bank is coming on board and things look promising there. Even DFCU Bank has been very supportive these days.