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Courts delay work in wetlands

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Courts delay work in wetlands

Homes of some of the alleged encroachers

Homes of some of the alleged encroachers

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), and National Forestry Authority (NFA), bosses, Messrs. Tom Okurut and Michael Mugisa, respectively, have blamed the courts for their delay in evicting encroachers on the Bukasa- Namanve forestry land.  The delay has halted four major infrastructural development projects

NEMA boss, Okurut said; “On 5th December, 2016 we issued eviction notices to the encroachers occupying the Namanve Forest reserve and the surrounding wetlands, giving them 21 days as required by law, however following that notice the encroachers, went to the courts and petitioned the President over the matter. The President has since pronounced himself on this matter in subsequent, meeting including the affected people on the ground.”

NFA’s Mugisa also said; “Attempts to evict these people from this land were done earlier in 2010, but with some research which was made, the operation was terminated; and people started serious building on this land and also getting land tittles. We even reached an extent of issuing the caveat but still people went on building.  In 2013, NFA was blocked completely by the court injunction and up now we are doing.”

Mugisa said that in 1932, 2,200, hectares of land in Namanve was gazzeted as a central forest reserve and in 1997, 1,006 hectares was partially degazzeted to pave way for the development of an industrial park to facilitate business development. But he added that, encroachers took this opportunity to occupy the remaining land 60% of the land for invisible individuals whose names Mugisa declined to reveal. The action of the court on these encroachers have seriously interfered the development programmes that are to be set, he added

The infrastructural projects which are expected on this land are in four phases; the Inland Bukasa Port, which is expected to cost sh. 486b ($180m), the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), the Jinja Express Highway (JEH) and electricity power station transmission. Mugisa said that the encroachers have become more hostile to the extent that NFA’s vehicle was burnt on the day the boundaries of the land were opened. Still, the authorities have not reacted, he added.

The Encroachers

According to NEMA officials, the people who were evicted from Nakawa-Naguru flats, Kisenyi slum, Railway Quarters in Port Bell and UPDF veterans, came and started building in this land. It became worse in 2010 when both NEMA and NFA started evicting them forcefully. Because of lack of facilitations and enforcement, the operations were. The officials declined to say why. Over 16,000 people are now settling and have obtained land tittles from Wakiso District Land Board.

Sources say most private individuals got freehold and leasehold titles from the board, yet for one to qualify for this, he/she has to either have been a customary tenant or the land should have been available for free allocation. This is not the case since the land was gazzeted. They accuse the area land board and committee for offering leases and freehold to individuals and failing to exercise due diligence.

Projects delayed

According to the SGR Head of Public Relations, Diana Apio, the SGR from Malaba to Kampala will pass through 11 districts. There has been little defiance in the other districts but with only the 273 kms which fall in wetlands. SGR appealed to environmental authorities and a mandate was granted to pass through the three villages of Kiso, Namataba and Namataba that are on 500 hectares in Namanve East. “That is where the defiance has been encountered,” Apio said. She appealed to the public to allow the constructions to proceed in time.

Dr. Okurut said, “We have already given Standard Gauge Railway-Uganda a permit section of Namanve forest reserve and other wetlands for other projects, we shall only compensate for the activities like fishing and other of such nature because that’s the law’s requirement. However, we shall not compensate for land since this was a gazzeted area preserving the wetlands and shores of Lake Victoria. If you are illegally in a protected land don’t expect compensation,” he said

NFA’s Mugisa expressed his worries, “In the courts of law and other forces, who have taken these issues as a playing game. Very many people have been arrested since 2010 but have been give minor sentences which has done nothing but just making encroachers to become too alert with money to give,” he added.

Way forward

According to the minister of Lands and Urban Development, Betty Amongi, there will be no compensation; and all land tittles will be cancelled. All encroachers must leave, adding the committee chaired by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, is handling the process of compensation.

Both NEMA and NFA have appealed for the institution of environmental courts so as not to delay the cases. They also asked the Government to give them their own Force that will follow orders from the authority and not from the Police “because this interferes without their operations.”

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