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Parliament summons Environment Minister over Bugoma forest

FILE PHOTO: Speaker Rebecca Kadaga

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Minister of Water and Environment, Sam Cheptoris has been summoned to appear before Parliament and explain the destruction of Bugoma central forest reserve.

The Speaker Rebecca Kadaga made the directive on Thursday after Kigulu South MP, Andrew Kaluya raised a matter of national importance concerning the continued encroachment on the 411 square kilometer forest reserve.

Kaluya told parliament that on 30th July he led the committee of Natural Resources on a fact-finding mission over allegations of land grabbing in Bugoma forest and that the committee found out that a big chunk of the forest is being encroached on with 7,000 acres under threat.

He reported that the forest is allegedly encroached on by Bunyoro Kingdom, veterans, sugarcane companies and individuals. Kaluya said that the National Forestry Authority (NFA) environmental police officers are currently supported by security agencies in order to deter the encroachment.

He demanded the intervention of government to ensure that the security officers are not withdrawn and that more security personnel should be deployed to protect the forest reserve.

Kadaga wondered why government was reluctant to address the issue of Bugoma forest that is reportedly being cut to grow sugarcane. She directed the Minister for Environment to immediately appear and explain the latest developments of demands for the security personnel to be withdrawn.

Kaluya further informed Kadaga that the demand for security personnel to withdraw is to aid the destructors raid on the forest even when the matter is still in court.

Bunyole West MP James Waluswaka equally demanded that the Defence Minister Adolf Mwesige be directed to ensure that the security officers do not leave the forest.

Kadaga gave the Minister for Environment up to Tuesday next week to present a statement to parliament.

Rujumbura County MP Fred Turyamuhweza demanded that the Minister of State for Bunyoro Affairs makes a statement on Bunyoro Kingdom’s alleged involvement in the encroachment on the forest.

Waira Kyewalabye Majegere, the Bunya East MP said that there was need to re-demarcate the forest saying that protecting it physically was not enough. However, Kadaga said that parliament could not make any directive before they hear from the Environment Minister.

Early this year, a court ruling gave Hoima Sugar Limited green light to use 22 square miles of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve for sugarcane growing, however, the ruling was appealed.

Masindi High court judge Wilson Masalu Musene had ruled that the land did not belong to the NFA and that the Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom, Solomon Iguru Gafabusa did not commit any fraud in acquiring the title or in transferring ownership to Hoima Sugar Limited.

The Association of Uganda Tour Operators recently warned that sugarcane growing should not be done at the expense of natural resources. The Association says that the encroachment on the forest will endanger species like chimpanzees and also hurt tourism activities which are a source of revenue for communities and the country at large.

Bugoma Forest is reported to be a habitat for over 500 chimpanzees, 201 bird species, and a special species of primates called the Ugandan mangabeys.

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