Uganda: Ministers Give Away Forest

by Feb 6, 2011Forest

Namanve Central Forest Reserve will be no more after two senior government ministers and the Uganda Land Commission authorised its clearance without following due process.

This means, according to experts, that the residents of areas surrounding the Namanve Industrial Park should ready themselves to suffer serious environmental hazards especially the pollution after the 3,250 hectare forest which would serve as an absorber of poisonous gases from factories, is destroyed.

According to documents Sunday Monitor has seen, the plan to give away the forest was the handiwork of Water and Environment Minister Maria Mutagamba and Housing State Minister Michael Werikhe.

Their scheme started in October last year when Mr Werikhe wrote to Ms Mutagamba asking for the forest land ostensibly “to relocate the slum dwellers from Kisenyi, Mulago, Katanga, Kivulu and other areas in Kampala.”

Genuine request?

“The Slum Dwellers International have always asked for land so as to initiate the low income housing project in Uganda to cover slum dwellers among others,” reads Mr Werikhe’s letter.

Ms Mutagamba wrote back: “In light of government need for land near the City for the above cause [resettling slum dwellers], I propose that the unutilised land in compartments…be set aside for this purpose and other developers that the Uganda Land Commission responsible for managing this land, may deem fit.”

The minister added that she was conceding to the give-away because a number of industries had been set up in the area. Ms Mutagamba also conceded because “… over time both the UIA [Uganda Investment Authority], Kira Town Council and other people have been encroaching on the area that had not been excise [cut out].”

Following Ms Mutagamba’s consent, the Uganda Land Commission sent in surveyors to demarcate the forest land into plots. However, National Forest Authority [NFA] officials are angry over the destruction of the forest reserve arguing that the forest was much needed in the area because of the Namanve Industrial Park which they say would pollute the surrounding environment.

And Ms Mutagamba is also aware of this likely situation as she conceded in her letter that: “Already there are reports of effluent discharge by the industries in the Industrial Park direct into Lake Victoria which will just compound the already sorry state of the Murchison Bay…” The NFA officials also argue that if the forest was to be destroyed, the law required that the government finds an alternative land where another forest can be nurtured and before the existing forest is cut down, Parliament must endorse.

The National Forestry and Tree Planting Act, 2003, instructs that “… amendment to an order declaring a central forest reserve shall be approved by Parliament, signified by its resolution.” The rationale of this instruction was that “the government or a local government shall hold in trust for the people and protect forest reserves for ecological, forestry and tourism purposes for the common good of the citizens of Uganda.”

But without due process, Uganda Land Commission has subdivided the land into plots against the objection from NFA. “I wish to add that any decision made should be in conformity with the forestry law whereby the de-gazzettement process should end with approval of parliament,” reads a letter by Prof. Mukadasi Buyinza, the NFA board chairman.

NFA security arrested officials from M/S Wemo Consultant Planners and Surveyors Ltd, for demarcating roads in the forest illegally but ULS Secretary, KSB Mubballa asked police to release them because he had authorised their activities in the forest. Although the forest was cut out for allegedly resettling slum dwellers, our investigation has discovered that the land was being parcelled out to senior government officials and their cronies.

ULS is already processing land tittles for several individuals who are not slum dwellers. When Sunday Monitor visited the area, several new construction sites were active in the forest reserve. Some of the trees being cut were for private tree farmers who had got licences from NFA. This new development could lead to litigation against NFA.

But ULS chairman Joash Mayanja Nkangi on Friday said he was ignorant about the land surveying. When showed letters originating from his office, Mr Nkangi said: “I don’t know anything about this. Ask Mubbala who wrote them.”

Mr Mubballa was not in his office when Sunday Monitor visited. He picked our calls but said he was driving; he never answered our calls again. By press time yesterday, his phone was switched off. Public land give-away has in the past 10 years become a hallmark of the government amid bitterness from the citizens.

But on March 15, 2007 while laying the foundation stone for the Royal Palms Estate project which was also controversially built on Butabika Hospital land, President Yoweri Museveni said: “I have heard some agents of backwardness saying we should not give away land to investors. But I have given you my word. You should not get worried about what such people are saying.”

“We have given you the land, ignore those who are talking, go ahead and build, nobody will bother you because we shall handle them.” When Sunday Monitor tried reaching out to Ms Mutagamba through the phone numbers provided on the parliamentary website, the mobile phone service providers alerted that the phone numbers do not exist.