Court backs Nema on Bugoma sugar project

Saturday May 15 2021
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Police and National Forestry Authority officials tour part of the disputed forest land in Hoima District last month. PHOTO/JULIET KIGONGO

By Juliet Kigongo

The High Court in Kampala has dismissed a case in which environmentalists were challenging the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) approval of sugarcane growing on part of the disputed Bugoma Central Forest reserve in Kikuube District.

Three civil society organisations had sued Nema and Hoima Sugar challenging the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) certificate issued to Hoima Sugar Ltd for sugarcane growing.

The environmentalist had cited alleged failure of the environment watchdog to comply with the requisite legal standards. The environmentalists argued that the ESIA certificate issued by Nema to Hoima Sugar Ltd was flawed, and had procedural irregularities and did not follow the law. 

The organisations petitioning included Water and Environment Media Network (U) Ltd (Wemnet-U), National Association of Professional Environmentalists (Nape), and Africa Institute for Energy Governance (Afiego).

Background
On August 14 2020, Nema issued an ESIA certificate to Hoima Sugar Ltd for sugarcane growing on 21.54sq miles of land, valid for five years but to be revised upon request or when the project area conditions change.
In the Friday ruling, Kampala High Court judge Musa Ssekaana held that the applications did not have merit.

“The complainants, in order to attract attention of the public and also to justify their existence as bodies concerned with environment protection and awareness, are trying to make all sorts of unsubstantiated allegations to win public sympathy. Courts of law are strictly guided by the law and sensationalism should never be used to sway court in any matter. The key stakeholders were consulted and they made written representations but the applicants seem to argue as if no consultation was ever made before the certificate of approval was made,” the judge ruled.

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The court ruled that Nema sent a copy of the ESIA certicate to National Forestry Authority (NFA) and other stakeholders, who made comments about the project and which comments were addressed before the approval of the project.

The court also ruled that the different stakeholders were consulted before the certificate was approved and the standard of consultation was satisfied since it is a general principle of fairness that the consulted party is able to address the concerns of the decision-maker. 

“The concerns of the stakeholders and, especially the NFA and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) were considered and this evidence is clearly set out on the court record,” the judge ruled.

The judge said it appeared the complaints were premised on distorted facts and the NGOs attempted to suppress the real facts in order to make ‘flowery’ case in court by exaggerating that the entire forest is being cleared for sugarcane planting, or that 5,000 hectares (21 square miles) of the forest is being cleared for sugarcane growing.

“…This is not true and it is an alarmism since out of the entire leasehold certificate of title issued to Hoima Sugar Ltd, they are supposed to plant sugarcanes on 2,393.8483 hectares against a total area of 5,579 hectares, which is less than half. Secondly, the Bugoma Central Forest Reserve is still intact and Hoima Sugar Ltd has been directed to undertake enrichment planting covering an area of 3.8919sq miles and must carry out regulated activities,” Justice Ssekaana further ruled.

On consultation
Justice Ssekaana ruled that the court is satisfied that the community was consulted and their views on the project heard and the court was not satisfied by the complainant’s argument that the people consulted were few. The court also ruled that the Nema executive director was not bound to hold any public hearing premised on rules since there was no controversy and there are no transboundary impacts.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com 

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