By Gerald Tenywa
GOVERNMENT is soon bringing amendments to Parliament to prune the powers of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), stopping it from single handedly and arbitrarily granting permits, giving away ecologically important wetlands to investors.
Speaking to New Vision, Environment State Minister Flavia Munaaba said that the ministry is already working on the principles that will inform the amendments.
According to Munaaba, this comes after months of destruction of swamplands particularly Kinawataka in Kampala which has attracted the attention of Parliament and the public. She said Parliament has already questioned the rampant give away of wetlands like Kinawataka.
"We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the giveaway of Kinawataka," Munaaba said, adding, "Parliament has asked us to probe whether the investors were given the whole of Kinawataka swampland by NEMA."
"We have decided as a ministry that we are going to do it (amend the law) and we are working on modalities that can set the discussions. We have discussed with the deputy Attorney General to prune powers of NEMA that are abetting the destruction of the environment," Munaaba said.
She also said political leaders and technical officers in the Ministry of Water and Environment had made fruitless attempts to stop the destruction of the swamp.
"If you go to Kinawataka those people (investors) wave at you their certificates and permits from NEMA allowing them to destroy the wetland. We are stuck because most people who are constructing in wetlands have been cleared by NEMA. They (NEMA) do not delegate to us because the law empowers them to take decisions as an independent body," she said.
Munaaba complained that people who have attempted to stop the destruction of the swamp have been dragged to Court by the "investors" who have land titles and permits from Government authorities including NEMA.
"When we stop the investors they take us to Court because NEMA has cleared them. Why should the law stop environmentalists who are trying to check the degraders of the environment?" she asked.
The Minister said the people who are suffering from the negative consequences of the environment should help to police the environment.
The local residents at Kinawataka fear that their residences are going to be destroyed by floods as a result of piling murram by investors. They also say the investors who were given permits were proxies for city tycoons.
The Deputy Attorney General, Fred Ruhindi told New Vision, "We cannot give an authoritative position. If her Ministry (Munaaba) has a position on that, she has to take it, to Cabinet to generate a Government position before she goes public on the matter."
Dr. Tom Okurut, the executive director of NEMA declined to comment saying the statement of a Minister is Government position he cannot go against. He also pointed out that he did not know about the decisions being taken dismantle the lead agency on the environment.
In a separate interview, Richard Kimbowa, the head of Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development said the giveaway of Kinawataka is part of well-crafted scheme by land grabbers who are working with highly influential people.
"Even if you revise the law and you do not dismantle corruption and influence peddling you will not achieve much," Kimbowa said, adding that revising NEMA's powers could end up watering down NEMA and fuel grabbing of land under protected areas.
"It is important to understand the proposed revision but what is needed is coordination and to weed out corruption."
Two decades ago, NEMA was set up as the top Government watchdog on the Environment. In an effort to integrate environment into development processes, NEMA has made regulations and also advised Government as well as the private sector.
Also, NEMA set aside wetlands, Kinawataka, Nakivubo and Kasanga as proposed wetland reserves in order to protect Lake Victoria from pollution and siltation.
The three swamps lie between Kampala and Lake Victoria which is not only a source of fish but also drinking water for Kampala's two million people.
Today, the swamps including the proposed wetland reserves are being turned into warehouses, industries and settlements.