CANCELLING WETLAND LAND TITLES: WILL GOV'T WALK THE TALK?
This is the second year of Vision Group's campaign to save Lake Victoria which will run until June 5. Today, OWEN WAGABAZA finds out whether or not the new government directive will finally lead to cancellation of land titles for wetlands.
The Government recently announced sweeping interventions to save wetlands, including cancellation of hundreds of titles issued for ecologically sensitive areas.
Announcing the Cabinet directive, the information and national guidance minister, Rose Namayanja, said even land titles that were approved by authorities like the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) shall not be spared.
She assured the public that the directive shall not discriminate anybody and that nobody shall be compensated. However, with the Government issuing many threats that have never been implemented, is this pronouncement not just another passing cloud?
Not just an empty threat
Paul Mafabi, the director of environmental management at the environment ministry, says plans to act on the directive are underway.
“The directive is timely. The technical team has already held their first meeting and we are on the right course,” Mafabi asserts.
He says for the directive to be successful, there should be massive sensitisation on the issue, as well as working with all the stakeholders.
To put a hold on political interference, Mafabi says they are looking at courting parliament to pass a resolution qualifying the directive into law.
“With this, everybody will be liable to the law, political leaders inclusive,” Mafabi says.
He notes that the directive will only affect those who acquired the land titles after the 1995 Constitution.
“Before 1995, there were no laws to protect the environment and wetlands in particular, and cancelling land titles acquired before 1995 may result into legal claims and compensation. However, those who settled on wetlands before 1995 and have no land titles will be forced out. ”
Mafabi says those who acquired land titles after the 1995 Constitution will not be compensated.
Despite the ministry’s hard stance on compensation, Mafabi says they are putting in place mechanisms for handling complaints and a legal team has been set up. The team will work with NEMA to handle the various grievances from the affected.
The myriad of laws
Section 36 of the National Environment Act provides for protection of wetlands and prohibits any person from reclaiming, erecting or demolishing any structure that is fixed in, on, under or over any wetland.
The Government has also developed a myriad of other regulations to protect the environment, but little progress has been registered.
These regulations include the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP, 2000), the Sector Wide Approach to Planning for Water and Sanitation Sector (2002), the National Wetlands Policies (1995) and the Environmental Impact Assessment Resolutions (1998).
Others are the National Environment Management Policy (MLWE 1994), the National Environment Statute (MLWE 1995), the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (GoU 1995) and the National Land and Land Use Policy.
A wetland being reclaimed in Kinawataka, a city suburb. PHOTO/Gerald Tenywa
Despite the latest pronouncement being received with joy, many analysts are pessimistic that the new proposal just like many before it may not see the light of the day.
With news filtering in that the Cabinet itself is divided over the proposal, and many ministers are opposed to the idea as they are likely to fall victim, observers say implementing the proposal may not be easy, especially if compensation is not to be paid.
What lawyers say
Julius Galinsonga, a city lawyer, says the commissioner of lands has the powers to cancel a land title issued in error, fraudulently or procured falsely.
“With wetlands well-known to be government property, the Government may cancel the land titles without compensating the victims,” he says.
However, Andrew Kasirye, another prominent city lawyer, says cancelling the titles duly issued by competent authorities without compensation will result into costly litigation against the Government.
“Constitutionally, you cannot take away proprietary rights from someone without compensation. Many of the victims will contest the decision in the courts of law. The initiative is commendable, but it should be executed in a just, fair and reasonable manner,” Kasirye warned.
Dangers of wetland encroachment
Uganda’s capital, Kampala, which sits on the shores of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest fresh water lake, could face severe flooding, shortages of drinking water and disappearing of fish, as well as a plethora of health hazards if wetland destruction is not urgently stopped.
Although still a comparatively small city of three million people, Kampala has a high annual population growth rate of 3.2%, with people from impoverished rural areas flooding the city seeking economic opportunities.
Wetlands serve as the rainfall catchment area for Lake Victoria.
Wetlands are also a critical water source for Kampala’s two million people on top of filtering much of the filth and toxic material carried by storm waters as they drain from the city to the lake.
However, this safety shield is diminishing at an alarming rate, according to NEMA.
The wetland catchment areas around Lake Victoria have shrunk by more than half their size in 20 years from 7,167.6sq.km in 1994 to 3,310 sq.km in 2008.
The Global Water Partnership in East Africa states that Uganda loses approximately 15% of its Gross Domestic Product due to the destruction of its natural resources such as wetlands. As to whether the Government is serious with its latest threats, only time will tell.
After reclaiming the wetlands from the encroachers, Paul Mafabi, the director of environmental management at the environment ministry, says the Government will embark on restoring them.
Citing restored wetlands in Bushenyi, Kumi, Soroti and other areas, Mafabi asserts that wetland restoration is possible, but costly.
“We should embrace the idea of prevention rather than cure. Instead of wasting billions trying to restore wetlands, we should protect them,” Mafabi advises.