MPs Sacco on the spot for buying wetland
What you need to know:
- Some of the members who have bought land there have erected permanent residential houses and lobbied Uganda Police Force to institute Kitukutwe Police Post to guarantee them safety.
The Uganda Parliamentary Saving and Credit Cooperative Society (Sacco), whose membership comprises lawmakers and parliamentary staff, has bought land that the environmental watchdog says is partially a wetland.
The land on Block 180 is located in Kitukutwe Village, Kimwani Ward of Kira Municipality, Wakiso District.
Some of the members who have bought land there have erected permanent residential houses and lobbied Uganda Police Force to institute Kitukutwe Police Post to guarantee them safety.
During an on-site visit, our journalists saw part of the land acquired by the parliamentary Sacco is drier but slopes into a marshland that opens into an water body downstream.
The wetland is not gazetted, residents and local officials said.
Mr Fred Mukasa, the Kitukutwe Village chairperson, told the Daily Monitor that the parliamentary sacco bought land during the term of the 8th Parliament from a lady he only identified as Mariam.
Part of the land, he said, constitutes the Nakiyaga River corridor and developing it presents risks of flooding to residents during rainfall.
Mr Mukasa said by the time he was voted into leadership in 2015, the land transaction had already been concluded and the swathe subdivided into plots that a number of members of Parliament and House technical staff have since snapped up.
Some of the legislators are already building in the area. We could not establish how much the parliamentary Sacco paid for the land.
Wetlands, which act as natural drains and purifiers of run-off water from uplands, are protected under the law due to their fragile ecosystems.
A resident, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, questioned how MPs who make the laws could turn to break it by permitting their own Sacco to buy land part of which the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) is investigating as a possible wetland --- even if ungazetted.
In a rejoinder yesterday, Parliament Spokesman Chris Obore sought to distance the legislators from the impugned transaction, arguing that “Parliament did not buy the land; the land was bought by the parliamentary Sacco which has a different management”.
“What I know is that the parliamentary Sacco bought a titled land and if there is an issue of wetland, then it is not the Sacco’s blame. Why didn’t Nema gazette all the wetlands?” he asked.
The environmental watchdog has picked interest in the alleged encroachment of wetland by MPs after a whistleblower tipped the agency.
Dr Barirega Akankwasah, the Nema executive director, said they have never authorised the parliamentary Sacco to use a wetland for any housing development.
The government developed a national policy for the conservation and management of wetland resources in 2015 and later issued the National Environment (Wetlands, Riverbanks and Lakeshores Management) Regulations, empowering the 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.
Other permitted uses include harvest of papyrus, trees, reeds, medicinal plants, fishing, and water collection for domestic consumption.
Under parts 27 and 28 of the regulation, 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, prompting the agency’s executive director in the Friday interview to declare that he was putting boots on the ground to deal with the reported wetland invasion in Kitukukwe.
“Once our inspectors have mapped [the wetlands], we shall then have a technical report to inform our next steps,” said Dr Akankwasah.
Mr Obore, however, said: “Now the [parliamentary] Sacco bought land and people have started developing it and Nema is saying it did not give permission to parliamentary Sacco to construct in wetland! Nema should have advised the developers of the land [prior] on how to use it.”
Some MPs speaking on condition of anonymity in order not to contradict the official position, said the parliamentary Sacco acquired the land without involvement of, or briefing to, all members but they were surprised when they found part of the land was soggy.
Officials of the Sacco, according to the lawmakers who spoke to us, promised to handle the matter with Nema, the sector regulator. They have since then not been briefed about the outcome of the proposed engagement.
However, Local Council I chairperson Mukasa said it is visible that part of the land acquired by the Sacco is a wetland and he proposed as a way out that the government buys all wetlands and gazettes them for conservation.
He blamed Nema as the regulator for not inspecting such wetlands that are not gazetted, yet encroachers continue to get titles to build in them.
Mr Method Mureebe, the executive director of the parliamentary Sacco, confirmed that the environmental watchdog leadership and environmental police have formally notified the Speaker of Parliament that a chunk of the land that the parliamentary Sacco bought in Kitukutwe, Wakiso District, is flood-prone.
“We have land in that area, but the land that flooded does not belong to the parliamentary Sacco,” he said, adding: “Our land is not a wetland and I am not a person of environment to establish whether our neighbouring land is a wetland.”
According to Mr Francis Tukundane, the parliamentary Sacco consultant, “part of it [the land in Kitukutwe] from the top side is dry land, but you can say part of it is a wetland”.
He argued that the whole of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, sits on wetland and land in the city should not be declared unusable simply because it neighbours a wetland.
What the law says...
The National Environment Act, 1995, provides for sustainable management of the environment and established National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) as the principal government agency responsible for the management of the environment. The law empowers the central government to take all such measures as it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abetting environmental pollution.