A row has emerged between the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Mpanga Secondary School in Fort Portal Municipality over a piece of land estimated to be over 0.4 hectares. NFA claims the land belongs to it.
The school, that was started in the 1960s, wants to construct classroom blocks and laboratories to accommodate the increasing number of students, especially those under the Universal Secondary Education (USE) programme, but these plans have been frustrated by NFA claims that the land is a forest reserve.
â€œThe school will pull out of the USE programme. We cannot handle the large number of students since we have no land for expansion,â€ said the headmaster, Turyaguma Baramu.
The school has 1,462 students, of which 509 are admitted under the USE programme, paying sh29,420 per term.
Most of the students come from the neighbouring districts of Kyenjojo, Kamwenge, Bundibugyo and Kasese.
Currently, the school has 19 classrooms on the Oâ€™Level block and five on the Aâ€™Level block. It also has two laboratories and a library that can accommodate 200 students.
The school recently received a sh900m grant from the African Development Bank to construct a laboratory. Construction is expected to start next month.
Fort Portal Municipality MP, Stephen Kaliba recently led MPs environmental minister Jessica Eriyo and lands state minister Atwooki Kasirivu to the school to study the situation.
Baramu said the school acquired ownership of the land through the Uganda Lands Commission.
â€œWe want the Government to intervene. When NFA tried to challenge us on the ownership of the land, we wrote to the Solicitor General, who made it clear the land is ours,â€ Baramu said.
He said the Prime Minister, Professor Apolo Nsibambi, recently said that if NFA felt strongly about the land, they should compensate the school and give it alternative land.
Nsibambi also directed that NFA should stop its evictions and gave a go-ahead for the school to construct classroom blocks on the land.
However, the headmaster said when they started grading the land, Samwiri Rwabwogo, NFAâ€™s law enforcement coordinator, led a group of armed men who beat the driver of the grader.
Rwabwogo said the school was advised to get an occupational permit to allow them use the forest reserve, but they did not heed.
â€œIf they wanted the land, there are procedures to follow based on the Land Act,â€ Rwabwogo said.
He said they would not give the school alternative land because it is a forest reserve.
Rwabwogo said NFA would turn the area into a green park and a recreation centre for children.
Asked if the school can co-exist with the surrounding forest reserve, the district environment officer, Alex Winyi, said the environment ministry should first issue a licence to degazete the forest reserve.
â€œIf the land has been degazetted, it can be reverted to the district land board, where the school can apply for the land,â€ Winyi said.
He said the land board or the school should look for alternative land to swap with the forest reserve. The alternative land should be equal or higher in value to the existing forest reserve and an Environment Impact Assessment should first be carried out.
The parentsâ€™ representative, Silvester Kimara, said: â€œIf NFA insists that the forest reserve is theirs, then the school will not admit more students under the USE programme.
The studentsâ€™ leaders say it is unfortunate that the school and NFA are engaged in unnecessary conflicts. â€œWe are perturbed that the Government institutions are fighting each other and wasting time.
NFA is frustrating the USE programme,â€ said Edwin Businge, the school headboy.
Businge said NFA stopped the construction of teachersâ€™ houses, yet many of them live far away from the school.
â€œBecause of that, teachers cannot teach until late,â€ Businge said.
The students said if the school is to be relocated, NFA should consider the distance that they (students) will have to cover.
Hamisi Kapande, the chairman of the school council, said NFA should allow the school to expand so that it carries out co-curricular activities.
He said students have to move to Buhinga and Boma playgrounds for sports.
Mpanga School, National Forestry Authority in row over land