Cabinet wrong on wetlands – KCCA

Land which city businessman John Imanirugaha claims ownership of in Bunga. Nema officials recently destroyed its parameter fence wall. PHOTO | STEPHEN OTAGE

What you need to know:

  • Dissatisfied with the Cabinet decision, which offered a lifeline to dozens of developers to get clearance from the environmental watchdog and KCCA planners, Mr Luyimbazi said they are reclaiming the vanquished wetlands to prevent constructions in them, which is certain to worsen flooding in the city.

A Cabinet decision to exempt a number of wetlands in Kampala from repossession by the government for conservation was based on wrong advice, a senior City Hall official has said.
Mr David Luyimbazi, the deputy executive director of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), said claims that the environmentally fragile areas had lost their ecological values were defective.  
“The basis on which the Cabinet formed the decision [to vanquish some wetlands] seems to have been faulty because the observation on ground revealed a different situation,” he said in an interview with this newspaper .
He added: “Those particular wetlands were categorised as having no ecological value and drainage function. Cabinet based on that to vanquish them, but when you go on the ground, that is not true.” 
In technical speak the term vanquishing, according to National Environment Management Authority (Nema), refers to the declaration of an eco-fragile area such as wetland unviable for restoration on the understanding that it has lost its ecological value and function.
Dissatisfied with the Cabinet decision, which offered a lifeline to dozens of developers to get clearance from the environmental watchdog and KCCA planners, Mr Luyimbazi said they are reclaiming the vanquished wetlands to prevent constructions in them, which is certain to worsen flooding in the city.
He was responding to complaints in a petition to the Inspectorate of Government (IG) in which City Hall and Nema were adversely named for issuing permits to various investors to invest in wetlands they are obliged by law to protect.  
In the 26-page petition dated March 20, and which this publication has seen, some officials of the two entities are accused of conniving and advising Cabinet to declare particular protected wetlands vanquished, without following legally prescribed procedure.
Ministers, according to various official documents, endorsed the recommendation, leading to their decision to make available for private use wetlands in the city suburbs of Bugolobi, Kyambogo, Kansanga, Bukoto, and Kinawataka, amongothers.
“Wetlands have continued to be [delineated] and titles granted in several wetlands located in Lubigi, Kinawataka, Nakivubo and Kansanga wetland catchment areas,” the petitioner wrote, adding, “The government bodies have conspired and issued permits in these areas, thus exacerbating the level of wetland degradation and drainage.”
Information Minister Chris Baryomunsi was unavailable presstime when we tried to reach him multiple times by telephone. President Museveni has been a lead crusader and champion of environmental protection, at least by official proclamations, which contrasts the adverse claims being made against the Executive branch of the government that he heads.
According to one official account, the Cabinet decision to exempt some of the wetlands from repossession was contingent upon information that land there were titled before the 1995 Constitution and environmental laws were not enacted to protect wetlands and criminalise encroachment.
The government subsequently developed a national policy for the conservation and management of wetland resources in 2015 and followed it with issuance of the National Environment (wetlands, riverbanks and lakeshores management) regulations, empowering the responsible minister to declare a wetland protected for conservation, whether partially or fully.
 Under the regulations, a wetland may be protected on the basis of its biological diversity, ecological importance, landscape, and natural heritage and may be used for research, tourism and wetland restoration or enhancement.
 KCCA argues that Cabinet was misinformed on facts about the value of the wetlands, suggesting persons and institutions that should have been debarred from the wetlands have been authorised to take possession for personal use.
  Under parts 27 and 28 of the regulation on wetlands, a person convicted of reclaiming or draining a wetland or building in it, among others, is liable to three-month imprisonment or Shs3m fine or both. It addition, the individual may be required to do community work that protects or restores wetlands.
 The law designates Nema as the lead agency in enforcing compliance on environmental and wetland matters.
 Ms Naome Karekaho, the agency’s spokesperson, on Sunday said the swamps they cleared developments in had already been “vanquished by Cabinet”.
“We based on documentation, including the Cabinet minutes and the existing land titles. Since the developer requested to use the land, we had to give them permits because the swamp was declared vanquished,” she said.
There was no purpose for Nema staff to connive to misadvise the Executive because investors already had titles for land in the wetlands, she added.
Asked how KCCA approved plans for physical developments on the wetlands if it disagrees with the Cabinet decision to vanquish them, Deputy Executive Director Luyimbazi said “our hands were tied” by ministers’ and Nema clearances.  
City Hall, he said, later found that facts about the ecological value of the wetlands had been misrepresented, and they were still useful.
Without disclosing who misled the Executive, Mr Luyimbazi said they are working round-the-clock to persuade Cabinet to reverse its decision so that the wetlands are reclaimed and restored. 
“We are working with Nema, [its parent] Ministry of Water and the Physical Planning Authority [of KCCA] to reverse [the decision]. What happens if we are to prevent flooding in the city? Residents are up in arms and we need to reverse the decision,” he said.
The Deputy Executive Director said up to 7,000 buildings in Kampala alone are built in wetlands and if construction continues, the government and public are bound to lose.
He warned that since the catchment area for floods has been taken up with buildings, the cost to the government to construct alternative drainage to offer functions of the wetlands will be high.

KCCA faces lawsuit in battle over wetland
In a dossier to the Inspectorate of Government (IG), the petitioner singled out the authorisation to Majestic Commodities Company Ltd to build nine apartments on plots 15 plots,1-5 Mpanga Drive and 67, 69, 71, 73 and 81 Mpanga Close in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb.
Our investigations show that the case in point is one where intended works by the developer, worth Shs5b, have been stymied by bureaucratic gridlock despite multiple approvals, recommended alterations and re-approvals lasting a decade-plus.
Majestic Commodities Company acquired the land and Cabinet exempted it from repossession as a public asset for conservation after it emerged that it was titled before the 1995 Constitution and subsequent wetland laws.
The environmental watchdog issued a permit, KCCA planners endorsed the building, sanitation and site water drainage plans. According to the first Nema certificate, the project was to commence on May 25, 2011.
Squatters on the land were compensated to leave.
However, City Hall raised fresh concerns, which delayed construction start, and invalidated the initial environmental clearance. Subsequently, the firm began the process afresh.
In March 2021, Nema issued Majestic Commodities Company Ltd another certificate (number Nema/EIA/14682) for the development of residential houses on condition that works begin within a specified time frame.
KCCA approved the firm’s revised structure and detailed plans as well as proposed engineering works eight months later, in November 2021, for construction to start within 12 months.
In a letter to the KCCA Director for Legal Affairs, top city law firm, Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA), on behalf of the developer, has put City Hall on litigation notice after it stopped the works again. By then the site was being levelled and backfilled. 
It was alleged that a Cabinet decision to vanquish the wetland, which was the basis for approving it for development, had been rescinded, rendering subsequent approval by statutory authorities invalid.
According to the law firm, KCCA Deputy Executive Director David Luyimbazi unjustifiably imposed on their client additional compliance requirements, among them, submission of progress report, revised storm water management plan, detailed work methodology and detailed drawings. 
In interviews with this newspaper, Mr Luyimbazi argued that Cabinet had been misled to vanquish the wetland for individual possession, and KCCA will reclaim and restore it and others. 
However, citing the more than a decadedelay, lost anticipated income and unending hurdles to project commencement, KAA demand that KCCA with “immediate effect” revoke its new objection or risk being sued.