The State Minister for Environment, visit web Dr. Mary Goretti Kitutu has proposed that the Ministry along with other government environmental agencies be given an enforcement mandate in a bid to boost their capacity in fighting encroachment on gazetted land, which is on an upward trend.
Absence of armed human resource has limited the efforts of National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and National Forestry Authority (NFA) to effectively protect the country’s forests, wetlands and water bodies, she said.
Minister Kitutu was Monday afternoon appearing before the committee investigating land management in Uganda to respond to why land in wetlands and forest reserves has continuously been given away to private individuals. After the 1995 constitution, all wetlands and forests were gazetted by law as public land.
“It is a challenge ensuring that people don’t enter our forests or encroach on wetlands and river banks. We would love that the status of NFA and NEMA be raised to the level enforcement as is the case with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
Our staff should be given guns since that seems to be the easiest way to get people compliant,” Dr. Kitutu told the probe committee.
In her submissions, she said that out of the 506 gazetted forest reserves, 403 of them have been encroached on. The central region including Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono is the most affected of all the other regions.
The Minister noted that whereas police and the army have been reinforcing their efforts, the 100 police officers provided for the entire country aren’t enough.
“We have talked to citizens, we have carried out the sensitization but they still get tempted to encroach. That’s why we need an armed force within NEMA and NFA.”
Issuance of land titles in wetlands and forests poses a major threat to the conservation of the environment especially at a time when climate change has become a global challenge. Increasingly, forests and wetlands are being destroyed for commercial and private use.
“Government ministries too, especially Ministry of Lands give out land titles in gazetted areas without our consent, resulting in court battles. However, we have cancelled 90 titles and 13 others will soon be cancelled too,” Kitutu revealed.
According to NFA statistics, Uganda loses an estimated 90,000 hectares of forest cover annually. In 1990, Uganda’s forests represented 24% of the land mass but half of this had been wiped out by 2015.
Presidential advisor on Buganda, Robert Sebunya, who is part of the probe committee, tasked the Minister to explain government’s plans to curb illegal sand mining in Lake Victoria which recently dominated media reports.
“Sand is an important mineral. Countries like Finland are thriving on sand mining. But here, people are extracting our sand and exporting it as a raw material for glass production and later sell us glass. How are we safeguarding this resource?” Sebunya asked.
In response, the Minister said government has since banned the mining of sand and is also formulating guidelines that will regulate what she called an ’emerging issue’. She lamented that the Ministry lacks the capacity to police the lake especially at night when much of the sand mining occurs.