Prof Bukenya talks tough: Directs cancellation of land tittles at Kitubulu central Forestry reserve

Prof Bukenya talks tough: Directs cancellation of land tittles at Kitubulu central Forestry reserve

Former Vice President Prof Gilbert Baali-Baseka Bukenya, recently appointed Senior Presidential Advisor on Environment, expressed dismay at the degradation of Kituburu Forest in Katabi Town Council.

Bukenya, accompanied by his assistants, conducted an inspection of various areas within the forest, including the Guda Landing site and adjacent locations near the Katabi Town Council offices on Monday.

Bukenya who invited officials from the National Forestry Authority, National Environment Management Authority, Entebbe  Municipal Council,  Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment, and a civil society group acting on the environment was shocked to hear that portions of the forest have been parcelled out and handed to individuals and companies for private development.

This occurred despite the government’s moratorium on de-gazettement of forest land.

NEMA officials, who were severally pointed out as being responsible for sanctioning impact assessment of activities, and the Uganda Land Commission ducked the meeting. The Ministry of Water was represented by Stephen David Mugabi, the Acting Director of Environmental Affairs while NFA Executive Director, Tom Okello and Director of Legal and Corporate Affairs Moses Muhumuza represented the Authority.

At Guda Landing site residents named a cabinet minister as one of those with land holdings in the area.  Other individuals named as holding land titles falling within the forest included Daudu Hood Mpagi and Deborah Mbabazi. Companies such as Megha Industries (with three holdings measuring 0.458, 0.383, and 0.458 hectares respectively), Mulkin Enterprises Limited – 0.110 hectares, New Nordic (U) Ltd – 0.514 hectares, and Tripo Sound Investment Ltd – 46.227 hectares were also named.

Our reporter couldn’t verify the claims independently. NFA’s Executive Director Tom Okello, explained that they had taken action to ensure that six titles in the area were cancelled but they were surprised to find new titles had been issued in the same area.  ULC is the custodian of Public Land and usually has a hand in the issuance of titles on public land.

He complained that the Authority had had a lot of trouble with such cases in Entebbe municipality, Wakiso Mukono, and Mpigi districts. Okello said that many of the titles are created without a survey but officials simply sit in offices and do deed plans without physically going to the ground or informing any of the neighbours or concerned departments.

He said some of the titles are created by or sold to people for mortgage to banks where the title holders know they have no intention of servicing the loans. This is how some of the titles end up with coordinates falling in the lake, meaning there’s no actual land for the title.

In other cases, coordinates end up falling on existing titles, causing fake title holders to conflict with rightful holders. Okello said such impugned titles were hard to investigate because holders usually have informers in the land registry and remove the files from their positions.  Even with the automated system, Okello said entries disappear and reappear later.

He explained the hurdles faced in cancelling such titles.  ULC usually calls the title holders for meetings but some of them decide to avoid such hearings and run to court where long processes punctuated with injunctive orders kick off. Bukenya said the public officials involved in the scam were engaging in corruption for which they should be prosecuted.

However, concerns over the degradation of the forest did not stop at sharing portions of it.  Where trees have been cut, there’s extensive sand mining, leaving deep water-filled excavations deemed a potential threat to life. Entebbe Municipal Council was accused of culpability for dumping garbage in the forest. Mugabi said there was a need for a policy on dumping used diapers this was a major waste contributor yet it was un-degradable.  Piles of them were found at different sites in the forest.

Bukenya tasked Entebbe Divisional Police Commander DPC Kenneth Muhairwe Musinguzi to why some of the transgressors were not arrested and prosecuted. Musinguzi said some had been arrested including sand miners with vessels that were impounded and trucks impounded.

Mugabi who explained it was the responsibility of NEMA to enforce compliance with environmental standards usually invited fined abusers and issued restoration orders but often these could be ignored.  Guda fish landing site, he said was in the forest but residents insisted they were resettled there by government authorities, though no written evidence to this effect was adduced.

In some areas where individuals attempted to replant trees, they were planting eucalyptus instead of the indigenous natural forest trees, something Bukenya and officials disapproved of.  They said they were ready to provide the right tree seedlings if requested because the ministry and other stakeholders were running the ROOTS program under which they intend to plant forty million trees.

Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve according to NFA measures 80 hectares (190 acres) but six hectares have been encroached on with more threatened by illegal activities or illegal titles held by presumably powerful individuals and entities.

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