Since 1996, environment and natural resources management in Uganda was decentralised to local governments and communities.
By Bob Nuwagira
In the last year, our client service and information platforms at the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) received several alerts, complaints and inquiries of every nature, especially about environmental pollution crimes.
From noise pollution, to backfilling of wetlands, poor waste disposal, charcoal and bush burning, industrial fumes, among others.
Most of these alerts, widely conveyed from across the country were addressed, thanks to Government’s support in the opening up of NEMA’s regional offices in Lira (Northern), Mbale (Eastern) Mbarara (Western) Masindi (Albertine Graben region) in addition to the Kampala office.
What is intriguing is that apart from a few cases, many of these alerts and complaints could easily have been addressed at different local administrative units at source.
One such case was when a district leader from the Kigezi called to complain and demand for action on a rampant noise polluter from a nearby bar to his residence. While we advised and this was handled by respective district environment officer, it highlighted the disjointed expectation - experience gap in the local governments in terms of environmental management.
Since 1996, environment and natural resources management in Uganda was decentralised to local governments and communities who directly interact and use the resources, while NEMA was given roles for supervision, regulation and coordination of environment activities in the country.
From the National Environment Act of 1995, each district has a full mandate to form a committee on environment and an office with powers to coordinate the activities relating to the management of the environment and natural resources, ensure that environmental concerns are integrated in all plans and projects approved by the district council and to assist in the development and formulation of byelaws relating to the management of the environment, among other roles. The laws provide that these committees are cascaded down to the lowest governing unit at the village level. This was further reinforced with subsequent legislations like the Local Government Act, 1997 and the Land Act (1998).
The biggest gap has been the functionality of these important structures. For instance, in the case of noise pollution in a remote trading centre in a given district should be handled at that level. It would defeat the decentralisation logic, if NEMA had to deal with any noise pollution complaint within the jurisdiction of a certain Kira Municipal Council or Kitagata Town Council for that matter when these not only have administrative structures with leaders to handle such cases but also obtain license fees from these business entities.
It should follow that, if you license a business to operate a bar, then it should be the responsibility of the issuer to ensure that the same entity complies with conditions of their license. Other sectors like Forestry, 70% of Uganda’s forests are either in District Forestry Reserves or on private land and owned by local communities. This presents a great opportunity. Local governments and communities are the first line environment managers since they are nearer the environment resources and better understand the problems and solutions.
With several legal regimes delegating powers to even make customised ordinances at the districts and bylaws at the sub counties, cases like illegal use of wetland resources, waste management, encroachment on river banks, lake shores and forest reserves and massive charcoal burning can easily be contained at the local governments.
In the year 2018, we registered several efforts in this regards, Masaka halted activities in wetlands, Wakiso districts started a push to cancel land titles issued in wetlands, while Gulu, Amuru and Nwoya districts in the Acholi region started on a process of establishing ordinances aimed at regulating the indiscriminate cutting of trees for charcoal burning and timber (New Vision, July 20, 2018).
At the leadership level, it was plausible for the Amuru Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Agnes Linda Auma as she led the enforcement in November in arresting over 100 suspects involved in illegal charcoal trade and setting on fire more than 1,000 bags of charcoal. Others like Kyenjojo District RDC, Apollo Bwebale’s efforts in the restoration of River Mizizi wetland system and Wakiso District Chairperson, Matia Lwanga Bwanika’s war on illegal sand mining and many more are classical examples that should be emulated in 2019.
Every action counts.
The writer is the senior information, education and communications officer of NEMA