Residents of Arua have petitioned the office of Arua City Clerk and the National Forestry Authority (NFA) over the purported fraudulent giveaway of Barifa Central Forest Reserve (CFR) to the Maracha County Member of Parliament, Denis Lee Oguzu.
In the petition handed over to the Arua City Deputy Clerk, Cornelius Jobile and the West Nile NFA Range Manager, Robert Owiny yesterday (Tuesday), the residents purported that Mr Oguzu was illegally given a to-year licence for eco-tourism development and forest conservation activities in the 236 hectares of Barifa CFR
Led by the former Terego district LC 5 contestant, Mr Kamure Titia, the aggrieved residents claimed that legal and administrative procedures were not followed in the giveaway of the forest, thus, allegedly rendering the entire process irregular, improper and illegal.
The team that included the Ayivu Division Mayor elect, Malon Avutia; the Ayivu East Division MP elect Geoffrey Feta, sections of the business community and elders said NFA has never involved any of the stakeholders of Greater Arua and West Nile about the giveaway of part of Barifa CFR to Mr Oguzu.
In his response, Mr Owiny defended Mr Oguzu saying he fulfilled all the necessary requirements prior to getting the licence from the NFA.
“In 2017, NFA placed an advert in the print media inviting interested members of the public throughout the country to bid for either tree rowing or eco-tourism development. The whole process was done in accordance with the PPDA (Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets) Act,” said Mr Owiny.
Adding: “West Nile had three central forest reserves advertised for and included; Arua central reserve forest (Barifa), Laura central forest reserve and Mt Kei central forest reserve. So, a number of Ugandans applied for these ventures and after a proper valuation was carried out, the list of successful bidders was published.”
Mr Owiny said it was on that note that Mr Oguzu who had applied for a licence to develop an eco-tourism facility in Barifa central forest reserve was given his offer of 10 hectares; stressing that the offer should not be mistaken to imply that it gives him ownership of the land or powers to destroy anything that is in existence in that area.
He clarified that Mr Oguzu is rather supposed to improve the quality of the existing vegetation in that piece of land to make it suitable for eco-tourism purposes.
When contacted, Mr Oguzu said he acquired the licence for eco-tourism development in the forest legally, rubbishing as the allegation that he applied for the lease of the land on grounds that the National Forest and Tree Planting Act of 2003 does not mandate NFA with leasing of public land.
“Such responsibilities are a reserve for bodies provided for in the Land Act. In a CFR, NFA can only license operations and management of activities that are in conformity with the law, conservation of forest resources, promotion of sustainable land use and contribute to co-existence between central forest reserves and communities for mutual benefit. Most importantly, these activities should have no significant negative environmental footprints as certified by NEMA and their licensing must comply with PPDA law,” Mr Oguzu said.
“Such activities can among others include licensing of private tree planting, eco-tourism, recreational activities, etc as is the case in Arua CFR. Under our nation’s legal framework, anyone is entitled to benefit from such licensing as long as it’s through a transparent public procurement process. Therefore, if a copy of the said 49-year-lease title exists, let it be made public,” he continued.