Mukono Municipality mayor George Kagimu has asked Parliament to respond to a petition where authorities protested the plan to degazette Namyoya Forest Reserve in Goma Sub-county, two years ago.
Mr Kagimu says unscrupulous individuals have taken advantage of the degazettement plan to claim a bigger part of the forest as some have already constructed permanent buildings.
“This matter was left hanging despite leaders petitioning Parliament. We want Parliament to pronounce itself on this matter because the forest is being encroached,” Mr Kagimu said during an interview on Wednesday.
He said Mukono is losing its natural forests at an alarming rate and they cannot accept the remaining few to be destroyed.
“It is sad that those charged with this responsibility of protecting our forests have failed to do so,” he added.
Worldwide, forests are instrumental in shaping the environment, especially through rainfall formation. They are also key in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees also have significant medicinal value.
But the Mukono District chairperson Andrew Ssenyonga dismissed allegations that his administration initiated the idea of degazetting the forest reserve.
He said by the time he assumed office two years ago, his predecessor with the backing of central government had already started on a programme to replace the forest with a satellite city. “The proposal was already in the pipeline although it got setbacks when Mukono Municipality leaders petitioned Parliament protesting the move,” Mr Ssenyonga said.
He, however, noted that the process of degazetting Namyoya Forest Reserve is still ongoing and stakeholders have held several meetings to that effect.
“Each of the parties [Mukono District, Mukono Municipality, Goma Division and central government ] have got interests and we have held several meetings to build consensus and see how both the project [of constructing a satellite city]and the forest can co-exist,” he said.
He noted that as a district, they have since requested for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report before endorsing the project.
“Environmental issues concern all of us and we cannot just allow a project on forest land without any EIA done. When they initiated the degazzettement process, there was a proposal to plant another forest in Nakasongola, and our question has always been; what about Mukono?” he asked.
Mr Ssenyonga also dismissed reports of permanent houses being built on the forest land. He noted that even those who had cultivated on the land have been chased away.
He said the district and community based organisations have launched a programme to plant new trees in the reserve.
Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze who has been on the forefront of saving the forest reserve, says their efforts to block its degazettement are still on, but expressed dismay over some local leaders whom she says have betrayed the cause.
“Many people even those in the current district and municipal council offices are secretly backing the degazettement of the forest after being promised plots when the deal is done. I detected that fraudulent process when one of the former leaders at the district promised me some acres of land if I support their proposal,” Ms Nambooze said.
Namyoya Forest Reserves initially had 900 acres but due to Wanton encroachment over the past two years, less than 500 acres are left intact.
Mr Kagimu said if government is in need of land to erect a satellite city, they should utilise the more than 2,000 acres of free land in Kyesereka and Papati villages rather than cutting down the forest. Government is already in the process of degazetting eight forest reserves in urban centres to pave way for expansion of the towns.