An activist against Genetically Modified Organisms got a shock of his life after he was threatened with criminal charges for alleging that Members of Parliament who sit on the Science and Technology committee have taken bribes to pass the proposed law on GMOs.
The meeting was organised by an anti-GM group SEATINI and brought lawmakers, media and other members of the civil society to debate the proposed Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012, which is expected to be tabled debate and voting before the end of the year.
One MP, Waira Kyewalabye Majegere, angrily demanded that Tumwesigye gives evidence of his claim or he faces criminal charges. After failing to substantiate his claims, Tumwesigye bowed to pressure and withdrew the claim.
As in other countries, the proposed regulation of GMOs has proved a highly controversial issue, despite scientific data showing that genetically modified crops do not pose a danger to human health or the environment.
Supporters of the bill say it will help the government regulate the introduction of GM material into the country especially given the fact that other countries like South Sudan have legalised the introduction of GM crops yet the borders between many African countries are very porous.
Supporters also argue that by passing the law, Ugandan scientists will be empowered to develop varieties that can resist diseases or withstand harsh environmental stresses like drought or flooding.
But opponents of the proposed law say that GM crops will enslave poor farmers to seed multi-nationals by ensuring that they have to purchase seeds every planting season.
Either side of the argument accuses the other of taking bribes from western countries. Most of the opponents of the bill are supported by organisations with roots in Europe while the pro-GM side is supported by American civil society groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
Allegations of bribery against MPs from the anti-GM lobby are not new. Early this year, another scientist from Makerere University Gregory Olupot was forced to withdrawal similar allegations of bribery against the MPs sitting on the science and technology committee.
The greater number of Ugandan scientists that the benefits of GMOs have greater advantages for Uganda than the disadvantages and therefore that Uganda should follow South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt to adopt GM crops.
MPs on the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology which is concluding consultations on the bill before it is presented to the house for debate, say that the bill must be passed as soon as possible for purposes of regulating Biotechnology in the country.
Luuka county MP John Bagole and his counterparts Patrick Mulindwa (Kasamba County) and Peter Eraiku (Kapelebyong county) said that the country needs the law in order to protect its people against the adverse effects from biotechnology and at the same time increase food production for the ever growing population.
However other lawmakers including Matheniko County John Baptist Lokii, Kalungu West MP Joseph Ssewungu supported the activists saying the Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill 2012 should be redrafted to avert the adverse consequences of the Genetic Modified Foods.
Other lawmakers expressed the need for another meeting that brings together both the pro and anti-GM camps so as to enlighten the MPs about the science.