Conservationists have raised a red flag demanding that the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) revokes the certificate it issued to Hoima Sugar Limited for a 22 square miles of Bugoma Central Forest.
The certificate issued on 14 this month approves the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) conducted by the company for a mixed use project.
In a joint statement read and signed by the Chief Executive Director of African Institute for Energy Governance, Mr Dickens Kamugisha, yesterday (Sunday), conservationists say NEMA opted to violate environmental laws governing ESIA processes in Uganda.
They cited the 1998 Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations.
According to the regulations a developer is required to openly consult the public during their assessment; but the conservationists say the developer did not publicise any consultations and yet NEMA ignored that.
The regulations also require NEMA to publicly call for comments from the public to complete the ESIA report, give the public 28 days to comment on the report and order for mandatory public hearings where a project in question is controversial.
Mr Kamugisha says NEMA did not fulfill any of these and hence called for cancellation of the certificate before sounding an eight days ultimatum for the Authority to respond or activists organise demonstrations countrywide.
The approved project comprises four components including a sugarcane plantation and other facilities including camps, administrative block, waste handling facilities and access roads all sitting on 9.24 square miles.
The second component is the Urban Centre which will comprise primary, secondary and technical schools, hospital, market, recreation areas, waste handling facilities and access roads on 1.206 square miles.
There shall also be an Eco-tourism Centre and Cultural Site which will include what they called an eco-lodge, walk trails and camping site to be housed on 8.296 square miles while the other component of the project is the restoration of degraded forest areas which will include buffer zones bordering Bugoma Central Forest, River Hohwa and its tributaries on 3.13 square miles.
Mr David Kubeera, from the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) says with the effects of climate change that have ravaged the world, Uganda cannot afford to destroy any of her forests. He emphasised that forests are absorbers of some of the carbon emissions.
Mr Bashir Twesigye, the chairperson of Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas says that the forest is expected to function as a sink for negative outputs or residue like gases to be emitted when Uganda starts producing her own oil.
Mr Bernard Kitintale, a member of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators says destroying the forest shall create a human-animal conflict since animals shall be displaced.
Bugoma Central Forest is home to several animals including hundreds of chimpanzees which attract tourists in the country.
It also has grassland that serves as grazing and breeding area for some animals. It is also a seed bed of several species of trees.
Mr Kitintale says NEMA needs to appreciate that Uganda’s tourism, the largest foreign exchange earner is based on the eco system and hence preserve it.
Ms Naome Karareko, the spokesperson of NEMA says the certificate NEMA issued was based on the ESIA and was the best deal before offering to explain today.
There has been controversy over the land since Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, days after securing a freehold title on the land in August 2016, leased 22 square miles of the same to Hoima Sugar.
The company planned to set up a sugarcane plantation, a move contested in court by the National Forestry Authority (NFA).
However, last year, court ruled against NFA saying the land belonged to the Kingdom and was not part of the reserve. There are still ongoing court cases on the same matter.