Minister admits failure to protect Bugoma forest from encroachment

Water and Environment Minister, Sam Cheptoris, has admitted that he failed to stop the encroachment on Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in Kikuube District.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee of Natural Resources, Mr Cheptoris said said the ministry did everything within its mandate to save the forest including deploying police there to stop the destruction of the forest but court ordered the police to vacate the land.

The minister also told the Members of Parliament that on the committee that he told the National Management Authority (NEMA) against approving the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for more than a year until Hoima Sugar threatened legal action.

Mr Cheptoris revealed that government lost a case it filed against Hoima Sugar when an official from the Ministry of Lands testified that the land in contention was not part of the forest reserve that Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom leased to the sugar company.

The National Forestry Authority (NFA) Executive Director, Tom Okello, told the legislators that aerial images indicate that Hoima Sugar has encroached on parts of the forest outside the permitted zones as laid out in the EIA certificate.

The revelation forced the law makers to scoff at the ministry for failing to protect the forest reserve noting that government left the fight to foreigners including the European Union ambassadors who petitioned parliament and the president to intervene and save Bugoma forest.

The Rwampara County MP, Charles Ngabirano, reproached the ministry for ignoring the fact that the EIA was being flouted.

The Buliisa woman Member of Parliament, Norah Bigirwa Nyendwoha, called for the ministry to take action and stop the destruction of the forest wondering whether the minister was in charge of the sector.

The minister admitted failure to enforce the EIA noting that NEMA should have taken action against the illegality.

The meeting that was also attended by ministry officials and agencies under the Water and Environment Sector had been called to discuss the sector’s performance in the 2020/2021 financial year and sector challenges.

The encroachment and destruction of Bugoma forest has received condemnation from local and international communities. Environmental activists have condemned the land giveaway forcing the NFA to sue Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and Hoima Sugar to court opposing the leases.

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