Sunday January 21 2018

How NFA chiefs conspired to give away forest land

Accused National Forest Authority outgoing executive director Michael Mugisa

National Forest Authority outgoing executive director Michael Mugisa. FILE PHOTO 

By EPHRAIM KASOZI & JALIRA NAMYALO

The National Forest Authority (NFA) board chairperson, Mr Gershom Onyango, and the outgoing NFA executive director Michael Mugisa, find themselves in the eye of the storm for allegedly giving away Kajjansi Central Forest Reserve land in Wakiso District to private developers without following the law.
Evidence before the on-going Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led Commission of Inquiry into land matters shows that during his tenure as acting NFA boss (July 2011 to February 2012), Mr Onyango facilitated a disputed deal in which a private company, Logistic Real Estate and Developers Limited unlawfully acquired land titles in the forest.
It is alleged that Mr Onyango’s letter dated December 20, 2011 to the private company, formed the basis for the degradation of 13 plots in one of the central forest reserves in the country. Although the company did not pay any money to government, the proprietors later sold the forest land to other business people at a cost of $2.5m (Shs9b), causing a double loss to the taxpayer.
Kajjansi Central Forest Reserve had been licensed to private tree planters in 1989 for growing of trees for conservation purposes.
But in his testimony, Mr Onyango on Friday explained that he was communicating that the company could acquire the land and use it for development and for development of an eco-tourism sites. He further confessed: “[In my letter], I was meaning developments that are allowed, though I did not include them in the letter. I also gave permission to plots which were not part of the licensed areas.”
Accused of telling lies to the Commission, Mr Onyango was grilled in regard to abuse of office, failure to conserve and protect forest reserves, neglect of duty, and collusion with Mr Mugisa to withhold public documents and information, as well as corruption.
It is also alleged that Mr Onyango’s decision, without the consent of the then board of directors and advice from the legal department of NFA, led to partitioning of the forest reserve into 13 plots measuring in hectares before being transferred into other companies; International Camping Sites and Super Resort Limited owned by businessman Ephraim Ntaganda and his brother Cedric Nsongoza.
Documents presented before the Commission indicate that Mr Ntaganda, who is also accused of forceful acquisition, destruction of property and fraudulent proprietorship on the forest land, sold it to other people.

Mugisa accused
Justice Bamugemereire observed that when he appeared before the Commission, Mr Mugisa concealed the information and documents in a public office and declined to speak about the disputed property.
“Somebody has to answer how government land ended up in private hands. It is because of these deals that you (Onyango) wants Mugisa back as executive director,” said the judge.
Although Mr Mugisa was not available for comment, Justice Bamugemereire said he and Mr Ntaganda would be required to appear before the Commission to explain their participation and knowledge about the transaction.

IMPORTANCE
Uses. Besides providing habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

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