Sunday, May 20, 2007

Govermnet should listen to the public over Mabira

The row between the public and government over the forest giveaways, spilled over to the mobile telephone networks last week and has now reached the courts of law. Civil society organizations led by Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACCODE) have filed three major suits to save the environment.
Other stake holders including the Uganda Land Alliance have intimated that they too will lodge in courts of law public interest suits to save what is remaining of the country’s forest cover.
But what is not known to the wider public is the fact that government has not enforced many court orders that have been issued in recent years to protect and promote a clean and health environment.
One of such cases is the long forgotten Butamira forest reserve in Jinja which has been destroyed by a private sugar company, Kakira Sugar Works ltd. In 2004 justice Rubby Aweri Opio, held inter alia that the 50 year permit that government issued to Kakira Sugar Works Ltd to grow sugar cane in Butamira forest reserve was unconstitutional and therefore null and void.
The judge’s ruling was based on evidence adduced in court to the effect that no project brief, Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Impact statement were carried out by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Kakira Sugar Works Ltd.
The lawyers who represented ACCODE the organization that sued government and NEMA, argued to the satisfaction of the judge that the government’s decision to grant a permit to Kakira would significantly change the land use of the gazetted forest reserve and as a result violate the citizens’ constitutional rights to a clean and healthy environment , as well as ,the protection of the country’s natural resources.
Under the Constitution of Uganda vital natural resources such forests are managed by the government in trust for all the people of Uganda. Butamira is one such resource that has to be protected for the common good of the citizens.
Court stated in the Butamira case that government has no authority to lease out or alienate the forest reserves. Government or a local governments can only grant concessions or licenses or permits for exploitation of natural resources with authority from parliament and with consent from the local communities.
In the Butamira case evidence was produced in court to show that the permit was issued to Kakira Sugar Works Ltd amidst protests from the local communities which formed a pressure group of over 1500 people who depended on the reserve for their livelihood. The people living around the forest were engaged in agro-forestry and the forest was their source of water, fuel, medicine and other forms of sustenance.
Unfortunately, three years down the road ,government has not effected the court order to cancel the permit that was issued to Kakira Sugar Works Ltd. The illegal activities of Kakira have continued un-abetted and sadly now, almost the entire forest cover in Butamira has been wiped out.
Government and its implementing Agency NEMA have not showed goodwill nor have they collaborated with the judiciary to enforce a court order in the case of Butamira. The Ugandan people especially the communities around these resources deserve better. Government’s deforestation for industrialization policy should be halted because saving the country from the adverse effects of desertification is both a legal and moral issue .
Government seems hell bent at implementing the Victorian capitalists ideas that operate around Darwin’s notion of ‘survival of the fittest’ That the fittest (read) the rich not only survive but prosper and that the measures to help the poor (in this case the communities that live around the forests) are wasteful since such people are deemed to be unfit and thus doomed to sink.
Greed and the pursuit of wealth should not be at the expense of our national/ natural resources such as forests. The intergenerational environmental law principle calls for equity in the exploitation of environmental resources between generations.
The principle demands that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment are maintained for the benefit of present and future generations. The principle therefore, confers rights on future generations and imposes a correlative duty of good stewardship over environmental resources on present generations.The International court of Justice has already pronounced it’s self on this principle further giving it efficacy. The court has stated that the environment is not an abstraction but represents the living space, forests , water ,the quality of life and the very health of humans, including generations unborn.
Next week in this column: Journalists should not be charged under the sedition law because its un-constitutional.
The writer is a Journalist and Advocate 0772 43 46 77

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