Judge, rafting companies in row over Itanda Falls

A man stands next to one of the gates at Itanda Falls at the weekend. PHOTO/TAUSI NAKATO

What you need to know:

The companies accuse the judge of erecting a fence to prevent them from accessing the falls

The Iganga Resident High Court Judge, Justice David Batema, and two rafting companies are embroiled in a row over access to Ntanda Falls and the surrounding river banks in Jinja.

The companies; White Nile Rafting and Nalubale Rafting accuse Justice Batema of denying them access to the main gate of Itanda Falls and the surrounding river banks.

They say Justice Bateme, who is also the proprietor of Itanda Falls Experience Eco Tourism Site, which is located on the contested land in Buwala ‘A’ Village, Northern Division, Jinja City, has erected a fence with two gates to keep them from accessing the facilities.

During a meeting to resolve the impasse in Jinja City at the weekend, the proprietors of White Nile Rafting and Nalubale Rafting said they paid taxes to allow them to operate on the waters.

Ms Prossy Mirembe, the managing director of White Nile Rafting, urged the judge to allow them access to Ntanda Falls because the buffer has affected her business.

Mr Davis Kisagala, the managing director of Nalubale Rafting, asked Justice Batema to shift his fence by at least 100 meters so that they can access the landing site during rafting at no cost.

However, Justice Batema said: “Whoever wants to do free rafting should not come to the Itanda Falls because we are licensed to collect revenue. The government needs revenue and more so from tourists and rafting is not charity or else you will be arrested.’’

He said he fenced off the area to provide security to the more than 30,000 revellers attending the Nyege Nyege festival near Ntanda Falls in September last year, adding that only those who pay will be allowed access to the Falls.

Others at the meeting included officials from the National Forestry Authority (NFA), and National Environment Management Authority (Nema), local leaders and residents.

NEMA reacts

Dr Barirega Akankwasa, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) executive director, said both rafting companies have no right to use the river banks without permits.

He added that river banks are restricted to protect the river from pollution.

“…Ntanda Falls experience has a concession which does not extend to the use of river banks before obtaining permission. Even if you’re the land owner you require a permit,’’ Dr Akankwasa said.

Both companies, however, allege that they applied for the permit, but the process is still ongoing.

Dr Akankwasa resolved that the fence stays until they have determined that the two companies applied for the permits.

He added that in the interim, the rafters, who are recognised by Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), will be exempted from paying taxes.

“The rafters who are complaining of access should, through UTB, send the companies to me then I will write to Itanda Falls to exempt you for the meantime and these will be recognised by URA and NFA,” he said.

He added: “Once the application is determined and you have a permit to manage a river bank, that river bank goes under your management (and) under the conditions stipulated in the permit and cannot be open to the general public.”