The Water and Environment Minister, Sam Cheptoris has accepted responsibility for failing to stop the illegal encroachment on Bugoma Central Forest Reserve.
He was speaking in a meeting with the Natural Resources Committee of Parliament together with officials from the Ministry and Agencies under the Water and Environment sector on Wednesday. The meeting was called to discuss the performance and challenges of the sector in the 2020/2021 financial year.
The encroachment of Bugoma Forest has dominated the headlines both locally and internationally since it was leased to Hoima Sugar by the Bunyoro Kingdom last year for sugar cane growing. Environmental activists have condemned the land giveaway. The National Forestry Authority (NFA) has since dragged Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom and Hoima Sugar to court over the lease.
During the meeting, MPs derided the ministry for failing in its mandate to protect the forest reserve and noted that government had left the fight to foreigners including European Union Ambassadors who petitioned parliament and the President to intervene and save the forest.
In his response, Cheptoris told the committee that the ministry had done everything in its power to save the forest and even deployed police to halt the destruction. He however, says court ordered police to vacate the forest land. He also said that he told NEMA to halt the approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment EIA for over a year until Hoima Sugar threatened legal action.
The minister also stated that the legal suit against Hoima Sugar by government was defeated when an official from the lands ministry testified stating that the land that was leased wasn’t part of the forest reserve.
Tom Okello, the Executive Director National Forestry Authority made a damning revelation when he told the committee that aerial images show that Hoima Sugar has encroached on part of the forest outside the permitted zones as stipulated in the Environmental Impact Assessment Certificate.
The Rwampara County MP, Charles Ngabirano chided the ministry for ignoring the fact that the EIA was being flouted.
The Buliisa Woman MP, Norah Bigirwa asked the ministry to take action and halt destruction of the forest. She wondered whether the minister was in charge of the sector.
The minister conceded that the ministry had failed to enforce the EIA and noted that NEMA should have taken action.