Thursday, September 11, 2008


MPs should not allow govt to destroy our forests
Fighting environmental degradation in a country where the managers of our critical national resources (like forest reserves) are hell bent on pursuing partisan commercial interest than protecting the public good, can quite be a hard job.

In Uganda, it’s even more scary because those responsible for ensuring a clean and healthy environment are executing their duties under constant fear of incurring their appointing authority’s ire.

These managers’ decisions are in most cases on the wrong side of public opinion. And unlike in the more advanced democracies where national leaders and managers of public assets are accountable to the people, in the not so polished societies like ours, public opinion is never a factor in the management of scarce resources.

Although the public mood in regard to the management of our national forest resources has been a mixture of hope , frustration and nervousness over the last three years - the National Forestry Authority (NFA) seems to have taken no clue.

How else can one explain the latest decision by NFA (a body charged with the duty of protecting the country’s forest cover) to grant a licence to Uganda Electricity Transmission Ltd to cut 69 hectatres of Mabira Forest to enable the construction of a new high voltage power line. The power line will run from Bujagali Power Station to the main grid through Kawanda and Mutundwe, west of Kampala.

This is one of such wrong decisions. And it’s imperative for us to remind NFA that there can be no doubt about the dangers posed by their reckless disregard of the conservation of critical resources like Mabira Forest.

NFA’s latest machinations point to one thing though - the well known government plot to illegally parcel out more than 7,100 hectares of the natural forest to private investors like Mehta and now Uganda Electricity Transmission Ltd.

This is what they call human culpability - when people work to destroy their environment - thus threatening their own very existence. With the on-going campaign against global warming resulting from poor management of the world’s environment, everyone including NFA bosses should be deeply concerned about the threat that climate change poses to human security and their economic wellbeing.

This is particularly important because our President is the Chairman of the Commonwealth Heads of Government who in 1989, passed the Langkawi Declaration on the Environment with commitments to support improved land use management, including conservation and sustainable use of forest resources.

According to the declaration, sustainable development should at all times ensure the preservation of standing forests; provisions for reforestation and afforestation; and measures to combat illegal logging and other causes of deforestation. Sustainable development means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Unfortunately, Uganda’s sustainable development policy has been poorly thought through, badly implemented and this has caused so much public anger. It’s all about destruction of what remains of our forest cover without planning for the future.

However, much as the government has struck to its guns and is not about to re-examine this botched policy, the law is clear. The Forest Act bars any individual or company from destroying, damaging or disturbing a natural forest except in the course of carrying out activities for the sustainable management of the reserves.

It’s clear from it’s provisions that the Forest Act was intended to provide for conservation, sustainable management and development of forests for the benefit of all the people of Uganda and not a few selfish private investors
Parliament should not give free rein to government to do as they please; to destroy what remains of the country’s forest cover.

Mr Sserwanga is a journalist and advocate

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