Monday July 28 2014

Use National Tree Fund to restore our forest cover

By Ronald Naluwairo

It is reported in the National Forest Plan 2011/12-2020/21 that within a period of 15 years from 1990, Uganda’s forest cover had reduced by approximately 1.3 million hectares, representing an average annual deforestation rate of 1.8 per cent.

This rate of loss of forest cover has serious implications for biodiversity; wildlife and tourism; the energy sector; agriculture; food security; and the lives and livelihood security of many Ugandans.

It also makes Uganda more vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.
A key challenge to efforts aimed at restoring forest cover and promoting tree planting generally, is the inadequate and lack of appropriate, long term and sustainable funding.

Aware of this challenge, under section 40 of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003, Parliament established a national Tree Fund.

The Fund was established to promote tree planting and growing at national and local level; and to support tree planting and growing efforts of a non-commercial nature which are of benefit to the public. Monies of the Fund include: monies appropriated by Parliament; grants, gifts and donations; monies required to be paid into the Fund; and monies from any other source as the minister responsible for Environment may approve.

Unfortunately, more than a decade now, the national Tree Fund has never been operationalised. Why? In a letter dated 14/08/2013 written by Mr Keith Muhakanizi (the Permanent Secretary, ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and Secretary to the Treasury) to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Water and Environment two reasons are highlighted.

First, Mr Muhakanizi argues that, “Following the creation of the National Forestry Authority (NFA), government has continued to finance its activities from the Consolidated Fund. The activities hitherto anticipated to be facilitated from the Fund are, therefore, directly under the NFA.” This argument is flawed.

The Tree Fund and the NFA are both established by the same law which clearly lays out activities that the Fund was established to support and the functions of the NFA.

If, for any reason, NFA decides to also fund some of such activities, that should not be a reason not to operationalise the Fund. Besides, the Tree Fund is important for other reasons that the NFA cannot achieve.

For instance, it is a catalyst for Uganda’s easy access to existing and emerging international forestry financing, and is a vital tool for mobilising resources from donors and private sector players who for one reason or another, may not want to put their money in the central government coffers.

In his letter referred to above, Mr Muhakanizi also argues: “I wish, therefore, to inform you that we do not approve the creation of the Fund in view of the proposals in the Public Finance Bill, 2012 which is before Parliament...” Unfortunately, Mr Muhakanizi’s letter does not refer to any specific proposal in the said Bill.

Neither does a critical analysis of the said Bill provide any support for his argument. The Bill does not propose to amend or repeal any section of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act.

In fact, under clause 27, the Bill gives the minister responsible for Finance power to establish other special funds as may be necessary. The Bill does not affect existing special funds like the Tree Fund that are established by Parliament.

In sum, there is no justifiable reason for the delay/failure to operationalise the national Tree Fund. The longer the country delays to operationalise the Fund, the more forest cover it is likely to continue loosing without replacement. The consequences are dire.

Dr Naluwairo is a senior research Fellow at ACODE and a senior lecturer at the School of Law, Makerere University.