Friday May 23 2014

Conservationists accuse govt of failure to protect natural resources

Mr Godber Tumushabe, the director of Great Lake

Mr Godber Tumushabe, the director of Great Lake Institute for Strategic Studies (L), Dr Tom Okurut, the executive director of Nema (2L), Dr Gerald Musoke Sawula, his deputy, chat with Ms Betty Bigombe, the State Minister of Water, at an environment dialogue in Kampala yesterday. PHOTO BY Racheal Ajwang 

By Martin Ssebuyira & Paul Tajuba

Environmentalists have accused the government of lacking the political will and failing to execute their oversight role in order to protect natural resources.

During a public dialogue on policies and their effect on environment and development yesterday, environmentalists said there were clear constitutional provisions to protect natural resources but they were not being implemented.

Former Finance minister Syda Bbumba said she had fronted a ban on polythene bags but government environment institutions frustrated the move.

“It is not shortage of policies but implementation and politicising all implementation efforts that are the leading cause of environment degradation,” Ms Bbumba, who is also the Nakaseke MP, said.

On July 11, 2009, Ms Bbumba, then minister of Finance, during her budget speech, imposed a ban on plastic bags “for conveyance of goods and liquid in order to protect our environment”.

An excise duty of 120 per cent was also imposed on other plastic materials and a moratorium of six months was given to the public as transition period.

Mr Godber Tumushabe, a former executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, said political action should be taken against encroachers who disregard environmental protection laws.

“The law protects public servants and government institutions but wetlands and forests are continuously disappearing at an alarming rate,” Mr Tumushabe said.

Preliminary data from the National Forestry Authority (2008) suggests that wetlands cover, as estimated in 2005, has now been reduced to 26,308 sq km out of the total land area of 241,500 sq km.

However, Ms Betty Bigombe, the State Minister for Water, said there was political will to protect the environment, adding that recently, Cabinet moved to cancel all land titles obtained in wetlands after the 1995 Nema Act.

“There is a big challenge of population increase yet the land is not expanding. I believe such forums are learning events for us to go and implement,” Ms Bigombe said.

She said all the issues raised at the dialogue would be tabled before a high level ministry meeting to draft measures to address them.

Public advised
Dr Festus Bagora, the head of environmental monitoring at National Environment Management Authority, said people should take courage and religiously follow the law to evict encroachers and restore wetlands if they are to succeed in protecting the environment.