Approximately 39,600 tonnes of polythene waste is released into the environment and most of it accumulates in the soil each year in Uganda
National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) officials were on Tuesday taken by surprise when a breakfast meeting organized for MPs on the Natural Resources Committee turned into a polythene bag (kavera) grilling session.
The MPs led by the committee chairman Alex Byarugaba rather than discussing the issues that had been raised by NEMA officials in the presentations, demanded to know why the Authority had failed to implement the ban on kavera.
The presenters had briefed members on the utilization and sustainability of the natural resources, the current state of the environment, how the resources are managed, and their role in the cycle and challenges faced by the sector such as limited funding, shortage of staff, recommendations and future plans.
Trouble started immediately after the presentation, when one of the NEMA officials invited questions and comments on the presentations.
"May we know what happened to the ban on kavera?" Byarugaba asked, opening a can of worms. The issue had not been mentioned anywhere in the presentation.
"You started off in high gear, confiscating them from supermarkets and then all of a sudden went silent. When you do something, please do it consistently otherwise people will think you are toothless," Byarugaba added.
He asked the officials led by NEMA executive director Dr. Tom Okurut to explain why they have not closed the industries which have continued to manufacture the banned polythene bags.
Byarugaba asked the officials to put down their feet and implement the ban even if it means losing their jobs
"You are not the first executive director in NEMA. Just like a snail, you must leave a trail. What trail are you leaving in NEMA? I warn you if the President's cow dies of a kavera one of these days, you will all lose your jobs" Byarugaba said sending members into laughter.
MP Ann Nankabirwa wondered why NEMA had failed to implement the ban when Uganda is a signatory to a number of international protocols. She also wondered why NEMA has continued to operate normally yet there is a ban in place.
"How can an investor go ahead and manufacture an item that is banned and the regulator just looks on?" she asked.
Citing the example of Rwanda, MPs Simon Oyet and Andrew Baryayanga wondered whether NEMA had blacklisted the companies and advised government to take action on the manufacturers.
"In Rwanda, you cannot enter with a kavera, why it had for you to do the same here. You need to vigorously sensitize the public on the effects of the kavera," Baryayanga said.
Other MPs wondered where NEMA was when the investors were getting licenses to manufacture polythene bags.
The ban on kavera has been marred by confusion. Although government first announced the ban on the use of polythene bags of less than 30 microns in 2009, NEMA started the implantation in 2015.
Hardly had the implementation taken off, manufacturers of polythene bags protested and reports of government lifting the ban started making rounds and later government clarified through the then Minister of Information, Jim Muhwezi, that the ban was still on.
According to NEMA, approximately 39,600 tonnes of polythene waste is released into the environment and most of it accumulates in the soil each year in Uganda. It is estimated that ordinary plastic bags and packaging can take up to 400 years to degrade when they are improperly discarded.
During the meeting, Okurut told the MPs that the polythene bag manufacturers and lobbyists seem to be stronger and the Ministry of Trade has proposed a new law.
"We have done a lot on the kavera ban, we have confiscated tons of bags and we plan to burn it. But the lobbyists though the Ministry of Trade are also there. But now that the Ministry of Trade is proposing to bring a law to Parliament, please take note and handle it appropriately," he said.