Members of Parliament on the Natural Resources Committee have criticised the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Mr Matia Kasaija for diverting the Environmental Fund from the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) to the Consolidated Fund saying this has crippled NEMA’s operations.
The MPs said the fund was lawfully established to assist NEMA restore the environment and manage climate change related matters; expressing disappointment saying that NEMA has no say on the utilisation of funds.
“The law is very clear that the levy is meant to address environmental concerns. But the ministry has turned it into a source of revenue for the whole country in disregard of the law of the environment,” said Committee chairperson, Mr Emmanuel Otaala.
The Busiki County MP, Mr Paul Akamba, said many environmental restoration activities are on hold due to budgetary constraints and proposed that government remits a percentage of the revenue to NEMA.
“The fund is supposed to facilitate activities of NEMA. At least, give them 20 per cent of the levy to spend on restoration of environment. Look at the national tree planting campaign. We said we shall be planting 40 million trees every year but it is now a song because there is no money,” said Mr Akamba.
The committee summoned Mr Kasaija to consider funding areas within the Environment and Energy sectors that the committee deemed critical.
In its presentation, NEMA revealed that it collected Shs267b from the Environmental Levy in the 2021/2022 financial year.
Legislators wondered why government is ‘punishing’ NEMA by allocating it only Shs15b for the 2022/2023 financial year for salaries, wages and gratuity.
“If NEMA collects all that money, why don’t you allow them to use the money and they give the excess to government?” asked Bukimbiri County MP, Mr Eddie Kwizera.
Mukono South MP, Mr Fred Kayondo criticised government for leaving the authority with skeleton staff and meagre facilities to monitor environment matters in the entire country.
“Imagine NEMA has 36 cars and 26 of them are down. It has 126 staff against 136 districts. We are going to construct a refinery and pipeline and we expect NEMA to be on ground 24 hours with 36 cars and only 126 staff?” asked Mr Kayondo.
MPs want government to take back the fund to NEMA to be able to set up regional offices and facilitate district environment officers.
“It is the feeling of this committee that you allow NEMA have offices in the districts. You cannot monitor the environment from Jinja Road at the headquarters,” Mr Kwizera added.
Mr Kasaija said he will have to consult other stakeholders on the MPs’ proposal to take back the fund to NEMA, explaining that the reason the fund was managed centrally was to regulate the possibility of its misuse, citing experience with other funds.
“There are many agencies that have funds but some did not run them well. They would collect money and waste it. We agreed as government that all money collected should go to the Consolidated Fund,” he said.