The Parliamentary committee on Science and Technology has warned that the delay by President Yoweri Museveni to approve the National Biosafety Act 2017 will have serious repercussions on the lives of Ugandans.
Last month, the bill that seeks to provide a regulatory framework for the safe development and application of biotechnology, research, development and release of genetically modified organisms was returned to Parliament by the President Museveni without signing it into law.
Museveni declined to assent to the Act citing its failure to recognise the work of our ancestors and researchers in improving traditional crops and animal varieties.
“This law, apparently talks of giving monopoly of patent rights to this adder, and forgets about the communities that developed original material. This is wrong. Yes, we appreciate the contribution of the adder. However, we cannot forget the original preservers, developers and multipliers of the original materials. This must be clarified,” said Museveni.
Although some of Museveni’s other concerns have been described by some scientists as misplaced, the Minister of Science Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye they have embarked on a process to incorporate the president’s concerns, which will not affect other parts of the bill.
“Whereas the President has raised a couple of issues he needs clarification on, these will be clarified on through the Parliamentary process that has already started,” said Tumwesigye at a recent training of journalists.
But now the committee of science and technology was tasked to reconsider the bill within 14 days and give parliament a report on the 30th of this month expresses fear that the without this law Ugandans are being exposed to dangers of the unregulated genetically modified organisms.
The committee chairperson and also Nakifuma County MP Robert Kafeero Ssekitoleko says that Members of the committee are now seeking audience with the President to address the issues he raised about the bill in order to be signed into law.
“When this law is delayed, it is as if we are saying that you do not put padlocks on your house and let everybody walk in and walk out,” Sekitoleko said.
He adds that today Uganda’s porous boarders are allowing in dangerous materials under GMOs because there is no legal framework to stop them.
“They (GMOs) come from South Africa, from the US and everywhere. And when you go to our supermarkets, you will find them but the police and other law enforcers have no legal framework to stop these practices,” he stressed.
Sekitoleko adds that most of these things on the market are not labelled and Ugandans eat them unknowingly. Go to some high class restaurants selling chips and chicken you will find Irish potatoes which are GMOs imported to Uganda from South Africa but nobody stops them because there is no law.
For us we are saying Uganda must be safe and that is what exactly the President is saying but we just need to agree on how we make it safe that is all because without a law Uganda is not safe.
Ssekitoleko explains that the committee will meet with the president most probably next week to address some of the issues he raised regarding the bill.
The committee chairperson is optimistic that they will agree with the President on how to close the gaps in the Bill if they are to sign it into law.