By Anna Amumpiire
Uganda will hold its general elections next year to elect the next President, members of Parliament and local government political leaders.
In a multiparty democracy, political parties are expected to be one of the power centres in policy and decision making over the management and utilisation of environmental assets such as forests.
Uganda’s general elections will take place at a critical time when there are serious concerns about the governance of Uganda’s forestry resources.
According to the National Forest Plan, within a period of 15 years from 1990 the forest cover had reduced by approximately 1.3 million. This represents an average annual deforestation rate of 1.8%.
The rate at which Uganda is losing its forest cover has serious socio-economic, ecological and cultural consequences such as climate change which has led to landslides, droughts among other negative effects. At the end of the day, it is the voter, especially the poor rural voters who suffer most.
Previous political party manifestos have not clearly articulated environment and natural resources issues particularly forestry issues. It is therefore important for all the political parties to contribute to the sustainable management of Uganda’s forests. This can be done through commitments set in their political party manifestos to ensure sustainable management of forests.
Governance issues are largely responsible for the loss of forest cover in Uganda. Forestry institutions are faced with governance challenges such as; limited funding, inadequate staffing, institutional coordination gaps, weak enforcement among others. In order to address this, key interventions are required within the sub sector some of which include:
Uganda’s political parties and other political leaders could commit to improve the state of District Forestry Services. Most of the District forestry staff do not have means of transport and operational funds to carry out their supervision and monitoring work. In many districts several positions remain vacant because of lack of funds for the districts to recruit personnel.
The portion of the budget allocated to the Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Sector is inadequate. While the forestry sub sector is considered as one of the primary growth sectors in Uganda, it remains one of the least funded sub sectors in Uganda. The political parties could commit to enabling the increase of resource allocation to the ENR sector including the forestry sub sector.
In addition, there has been an increase in forest crimes and illegal activities in the forest sector due to corruption and inadequate capacity of forest management institutions resulting in poor supervision and monitoring. Political parties and other political actors should consequently provide clear measures they intend to undertake to address this challenge. One of the measures that political parties could consider taking up to combat forest crimes and illegalities is to institute legal reforms aimed at increasing penalties for the different forest crimes.
The political parties’ manifestos should not be used to attain support/voters without implementing the party commitments. The manifesto of an elected party should be used by the electorate to hold the ruling party accountable. The Political parties should therefore set firm commitments and targets aimed at safeguarding Uganda’s forests. Political parties should take a strong leadership role in ensuring that sustainable forest management is a key consideration in policy making.
Works with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE)