Government should reign in officials to save forests

Saturday November 9 2019

In the spotlight.  State minister for Trade

In the spotlight. State minister for Trade Michael Kafabusa Werikhe  

By Editor

It was reported that State minister for Industry, Mr Michael Werikhe, was named among people who have encroached on the Namanve Central Forest Reserve in Wakiso District. The minister claimed he was genuinely allocated the said land by the Uganda Land Commission and also denied it being in a forest reserve. The minister’s name appeared on a list of eight encroachers who included individuals and companies that National Forestry Authority (NFA) officials cited while appearing before the Parliament’s Committee on Natural Resources.
Mr Sam Cheptoris, the Water and Environment minister, while appearing before the committee, also cited what he called “mafias” in government who he said have been colluding with courts of law to win cases whenever NFA sues them for encroachment on forests.

Mr Cheptoris said: “I have to agree that we are in a crisis and we need your (Parliament) support. We all know that there are mafias, the people who collude and connive with courts to defeat justice.”
These mafia and the forest depletion crisis is what government ought to start cracking a whip on lest the public forest cover will disappear completely. Uganda’s forest cover across the country has tremendously declined from 24 per cent (4,933,271 hectares (Ha)) of land area in the 1990s to less than the current nine per cent.

State Minister for Environment Mary Goretti Kitutu in July said Uganda’s forest cover has been depleted to eight per cent, up from 24 per cent in the 1990s, attributing it to human encroachment for different activities like agriculture and tree cutting for timber and charcoal. She warned that once people don’t embrace conservation of nature, they will suffer climate change effects such as prolonged drought, floods and landslides, noting that the country will soon become water-stressed if citizens do not pay attention to environmental management.
Among people that have been named in grabbing forest reserves are government officials who are using government bodies such as land boards and Uganda Land Commission to acquire titles on the public forest land, with impunity.

Central forest reserves are gazetted by Parliament, and the process for gazetting and degazetting is clear in Section 6, 7, 8 of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003. But because some government officials wield a lot of power and influence, they will use their offices and connections to bypass processes and intimate land officials into succumbing to pressure and issuing land titles in forest land against the law. Its high time government reigned in their officials to save the country from desertification.