8 September 2006

Kenya: Minister Quiet On Plan to Settle Families On Forest Land

Nairobi — The minister for the environment, Prof Kivutha Kibwana, yesterday declined to comment on a government plan to hive off part of the 7,692-acre Ngong Hills forest to settle 400 families.

Speaking by telephone, he instead referred the Nation to the chief conservator of forests who, he said, was competent enough to answer all queries on the forest.

"I do not want to comment on the matter now," Prof Kibwana told the Nation in Nairobi before he left for his Makueni constituency. "Kindly speak to the chief conservator of forests."

Environmentalists have expressed concern over Prof Kibwana's ability to handle the controversial issue, saying that the minister will not be fair, considering that he also holds the Lands and Settlement portfolio on an acting capacity.

The chief conservator

However, Speaking to the Nation later, the chief conservator, Mr David Mbugua, said the Government was considering a proposal from the Office of the President to degazette part of the forest.

"It is true, I have received letters seeking to have part of the forest excised to settle more than 400 families," he said. "I'm considering the request."

But he said that although he had received the request, the Government would not implement the plan unless it received a nod from the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema).

Nema, he said, would have to scrutinise an environmental impact assessment report before making a decision.

Should Nema give the nod the Environment minister would degazette part of the forest for the settlement, he added.

Environmental groups have opposed the plan, saying that it could cause an ecological disaster.

Hundreds squatters have been streaming into the forest ahead of the expected settlement.

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