By Mary Karugaba
President Yoweri Museveni has directed the ministry of Finance and National Forest Authority to give sh3b to the over 1500 individuals who were evicted from Luwunga forest reserve in Kiboga district.
Appearing before the Parliament committee on natural resources on Tuesday, NFA executive director, Michael Mugisa, said Finance has already allocated the funds but that the money will be given to the people through their cooperative saving groups.
According to Mugisa, the money is to help the evictees start up businesses.
“The President said the money should be given to the individuals through Twegatte Savings and Credit Cooperative. It is not for compensation, because they settled illegally in the forest reserve,” he said.
The President’s intervention reportedly follows a petition by the evictees in Kiboga District who petitioned him requesting to stay their eviction from the 39 square miles of land which used to serve as a forest reserve in 2010.
In the petition, the residents who occupy Luwunga Forest Reserve argue that they entered into the forest reserve in the early 1970s after a presidential decree by the then President Idi Amin Dada (RIP).
But NFA wanted them out in order to allow the authority re-open the boundaries of Forest Reserve. About two square miles of the Forest Reserve had been encroached on. The forest reserve covers about 35 square miles.
Mugisa was responding to concerns raised by MPs on the Natural Resources Committee about the need for the money.
“Why would you compensate people who illegally settled in the reserve?” MP Wamakuyu Mudini asked.
Jimmy Ouna, NFA Encroachment Prevention Specialist told MPs that unless parliament intervenes, management of forests in the country is going to be a big challenge.
He said although NFA has struggled to prevent encroachment, over 200,000 a hectare of forest in the country has been destroyed.
“NFA has made significant efforts towards removal of encroachers from central forest reserves but the problem is still too much. This is mainly due to population increase,” he said.
Mwesige said removal of encroachers has already taken place in the forests of Buhingiro, Rwesambya, Ibambaro, Matiri, Kagombe, and other forests in Kibaale, around Lake Victoria, and in other parts of West Nile recovering over 10,000 hectares.