Wednesday March 4 2015

MPs throw out minister over kaveera ban delay

Environment minister Ephraim Kamuntu gestures

Environment minister Ephraim Kamuntu gestures after the Natural Resources committee kicked him out yesterday. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

PARLIAMENT. Lawmakers yesterday banged tables, called the water and environment minister names, before kicking him and his officials out of a meeting called to discuss a ban on the use of polythene bags.
MPs on the Natural Resources committee led by former Finance minister Syda Bbumba, who announced the ban in 2009, said polythene bags (commonly known as kaveera ) pose a danger to the environment and “violates the rights of citizens to a clean and healthy environment.”
Attempts by Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, the minister, to blame the politically charged nature of any debate about polyethenes and the “lack of coordination” for the delay in banning kaveera, only further infuriated the committee.
Ssembabule Woman MP Anifa Kawooya noted that for 15 years she has been talking about the ban without success.
Ms Kawooya moved that the minister and team be thrown out despite his desperate pleas about the constitutional right to a fair hearing.
“We resolved that the kaveera should rest in eternal peace but the minister and his friends are just playing games. We are tired of talking; we want action and the minister should not appear before this committee until this matter is resolved,” she said.
She would be supported by Ms Ann Nankabirwa (Kyankwanzi Woman) who declared: “This meeting does not add any value, we did not come here to waste time. The minister and his team should leave the committee, we have other things do”.
Officials from National Environmental Authority (Neema) tried to explain the challenges they are facing, and steps being taken to implement the July 2009 ban but were told to shut up. The MPs accused the minister and his team of “incompetence” and expressed disappointment over his re-appointment to the same docket in this week’s Cabinet reshuffle. “What we want is a solution to this problem, we cannot keep lamenting all the time,” said Ms Bbumba. “In any case, not all types of buveera were banned; the ban was on polythene bags of less than 30 microns. Let the minister go to cabinet and tell the Prime Minister that Parliament wants the ban on kaveera to be implemented. We want to protect our environment.”

The committee resolved to draft a private members bill banning kaveera.
In her 2009 budget, Ms Bbumba announced a total ban on the importation and production of all polythene materials. Importation and production of these items was banned with effect from July 1, 2009.
However, the ban was greeted by protests from some business people. An excise duty of 120 per cent was also imposed on some plastic materials.
Nema’s Dr Gerald Sawula told members that since then, several recycling plants have been licenced to reduce the hazardous dangers of polythene bags. But without documents to support their defence, the MPs rejected this explanation.
In 2002, in a case filed by the non governmental group Greenwatch, Judge Eldad Mwangusya ruled that plastic bags are a danger to Ugandans and urged the government to pass a law against them “as a matter of urgency.”
In August 2011, MPs on the Natural Resources Committee threatened to withhold funding for the Ministry of Water and Environment unless it implemented the ban on polythene bags.
Yesterday, Prof Kamuntu said: “I am just as concerned as you are, the kaveera must go and what we need is a single voice to deal with this problem.”