By Joyce Namutebi
FORMER Vice President, Prof Gilbert Bukenya has faulted Wakiso District over destruction of the 738 hectare Nonve Central Forest Reserve, which is located in the district.
Appearing before the parliamentary select committee on the forest reserve Bukenya, who is the Busiro north Member of Parliament, said he suspects fraud especially when the forest was referred to as “ekibanja” and its changing into free hold.
“It is only Parliament that can degazette national Forestry Land,” he said.
Bukenya, who is a medical doctor, said he was deeply hurt by the destruction of the forest, which he acknowledged as having been rich in medicinal trees. He demanded urgent restoration of the forest and driving out of cows, which, he said, are destroying the tree stumps and water sources for wananchi.
He said the district was responsible for its destruction and should participate in replanting of trees while the National Forestry Authority (NFA) should be responsible for providing the seedlings.
He was of the view that medicinal trees be planted rather than eucalyptus and other species.
He noted that the matter he was raising has nothing to do with politics and should therefore not be politicised.
The five-member select committee was set up by the Speaker of Parliament recently after the House passed a motion by Bukenya calling for investigations into the matter, a halt of all activities in the forest reserve and deployment of environmental police.
The committee chaired by Dokolo MP, Felix Okot Ogong is scheduled to inspect the forest reserve today. Other members are Joshua Anywarach (Padyere), Joseph Balikuddembe (Busiro south), James Kakooza (Kabula) and Robinah Nabbanja (Kibale).
Bukenya explained to the MPs that this was the second time the forest was being tampered with, the first time having been around 2009.
At the start of the interface, he told the MPs that the information he was giving was from whistle blowers, whose details he provided to the committee.
He said that a one Haruna Semakula had called the forest a customary kibanja and on October 17, 2013 applied to change it into a freehold title land.
“When he applied, the application was affirmed and signed by the chairperson district land board and secretary to the land board. Subsequently Katabi sub area land committee was called to inspect the conversion to freehold. And they said they have surveyed the kibanja and they recommend its turning into freehold,” he said.
The conversion, he said was approved by the district land board. “As I talk now the forest is 50% gone and the local people are in tears,” Bukenya said.
He said that the National Forest Authority officials had told Parliament research team that they had not de-gazetted any forest reserve in Buwanuka, Wakiso District, but admitted that there are illegal occupants.
Bukenya urged Parliament to do thorough investigations into the matter.
Officials lined up to appear before the committee includes the Minister of Lands, NFA Executive director, Semakula and Wakiso district Land Board.
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Bukenya accuses Wakiso officials of forest destruction