Mbarara District leaders have traded accusations over destruction of wetlands and forests in the area.
The district planner, Mr Johnson Tusimireyo, while presenting a situational analysis during the budget and planning forum conference at the district headquarters on Wednesday, said forests used to cover 20 per cent of the land but have now reduced to only eight per cent.
He said Bwizibwera Forest Reserve in Kashari County that was 28 hectares has only five hectares left.
Mr Tusimireyo also said of the 7,580 wetlands the district had, 2,300 have been degraded.
Mr Didas Tabaro, a former district councillor, blamed the situation on lack of political will to protect the environment.
“They [politicians and leaders] can influence and direct on the implementation of these laws but they are always compromised to protect their votes,” Mr Tabaro said.
The deputy resident district commissioner, Mr Emmy Katera, blamed the implementing agencies and politicians for the depletion of the forests and wetlands.
“I think it’s corruption within implementing agencies. We have forestry and environment officers. Then if the depletion is at this level who should we blame? We are moving to crack the whip on those not doing their work. Even the politicians who are becoming opportunists in terms of playing politics; we will not allow [this to happen]. We have launched an initiative to evict and reprimand all those that have flouted environmental laws,” Mr Katera said.
Mbarara District senior environment officer who is also acting natural resources officer, Mr David Niwagaba, said as long as there is no mindset change in communities and leaders, the destruction will continue.
“No one is bothered whether trees are planted or not. We have encroachment but leaders are keeping quiet, they are not supportive. The natural resources sector has no vehicle and enforcement staff,” Mr Niwagaba said. “The encroachers know when you evict them today you will go back after a year because you are not facilitated and by the time you go back they would have done more damage, planted and harvested their crops.”
He added that the district has been getting Shs7m from central government every year for the natural resources, office and that they now share the money with the new district of Rwampara.
Mr Niwagaba added that they have, nonetheless, put in place some interventions that include community sensitisation on sustainable use of wetlands and community tree planting; establishing a district nursery bed and distributing free seedlings to public and carry out evictions.
Meanwhile, the district councillors shunned the budget conference over allowances.
Only Mr Tom Karuhanga, the councillor for Bucuro Sub-county, attended.
The district speaker, Mr Balaam Ndyaguma, wondered how the organisers expected the councillors to travel for the conference.
“I think they didn’t want them to attend and I am wondering how they will present the output of the conference to the sectorial committees,” Mr Ndyaguma said.
Mr Kateera (Deputy RDC) said: “It’s very unfortunate that the district leadership can shun such an important conference because of allowances; it’s a shame and as leaders we need to rethink and become patriotic if we are to effectively deliver our mandate of serving the people.”
The Chief Administrative Officer, Mr Kweyamba Ruhemba, said they had invited more than 200 participants including the councillors, but 50 people turned up.