By John Agaba
SENIOR officials from the ministry of tourism have expressed their desire for cabinet to pass the proposed Uganda Wildlife Authority Act soon to control the increasing trade in ivory.
The proposed Act, which is still in cabinet, stipulates stringent measures and penalties for anyone caught in poaching-related activities.
The media has been awash with cases of the Uganda Revenue Authority impounding lots of ivory, the latest being a consignment of 440 ivory impounded at Entebbe Airport on December 22.
Akankwasah Barirega, the ministry’s principal wildlife officer, said that the proposed amendments were now at cabinet level. Once cabinet had approved them, they would proceed from there.
Once cabinet passes the proposed act, it will to parliament. After parliament has passed it the president has to assent to it, to become a law.
Barirega said that there was a need to establish minimum penalties which are harsh enough to deter people from poaching and other related activities.
This was Friday during the welcome ‘party’ for Babra Nakitto at the Kampala Sheraton Hotel.
The 22-year old Uganda Miss Tourism won the Miss Friendship crown in the recently concluded Miss Tourism International pageant in Malaysia.
Barirega said that under the current UWA 1996 Act, the minimum penalty one could face for engaging in poaching-related activities was a sentence not exceeding more than seven years in prison.
He, however, said that even under this “weak law” very few were given the maximum penalty when caught, tried and convicted.
He said that in the last one year only about eight people were successful prosecuted, regarding poaching-related activities.
“But the biggest fine was about sh2m. Others were just warned and released,” he said. “Now if someone is trafficking ivory worth billions of shillings, what is sh2m to them?” he said.
The two officials from forwarding and clearing firms arrested in connection with the 440 pieces of ivory were released without charges.
He, however, said that most of the ivory that the URA has been impounding was not from Ugandan elephants. He said that Uganda was being used as a conduit for transporting these ivories to their destination, usually Asia.
He said that Uganda has about 5000 elephants, having grown from about 2000 elephants in the 1980’s.
Charles Tumwesigye, the conservation area manager at UWA earlier pointed out that Uganda has been losing an average of five elephants annually, but the numbers shot up to 18 in 2008, 25 in 2012 and reduced to 11 last year.