18 October 2006

Uganda: MPs Deny Museveni On Mabira Forest

Kampala — A HOST of concerned government officials and the relevant members of Parliament are reluctant to endorse President Museveni's planned giveaway of forestland at Mabira to a local sugar manufacturing company despite insistence from the Prime Minister, Prof Apolo Nsibambi.

Daily Monitor has learnt that on two separate occasions, the top government bureaucrats and MPs refused to heed calls for them to travel to Mabira forest to "ascertain allocating 7100 hectares of Mabira central forest reserve" to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited, owned by the Mehta Group of Companies.

The directive was expected to draw a formal "endorsement" by the legislators who are permanent members on Parliament's Natural Resources Committee.

Daily Monitor has seen a confidential letter written by Premier Nsibambi to the Minister of Tourism, Trade and Industry Ms Janat Mukwaya, expressing his utter frustration at her failure in executing a presidential directive of fast tracking the allocation of Mabira forest to Mehta Group.

"In my letter of ref ADM/186/01 dated 15 September, I directed you [Mukwaya] to lead a team to carry out site assessment of Mabira forest on 19 September 2006 and to report to me your findings. In making this directive, I was also fulfilling the directive of H.E the President," an infuriated Nsibambi(R) wrote.

However, it emerged that Ms Mukwaya only managed to make the trip to Mabira with her technical team without any MPs on the committee and other line ministers infuriating Nsibambi in turn.

"You [Mukwaya] informed me that when you went to Mabira forest many people did not turn up," Nsibambi wrote in his September 21 missive.

"I am now directing you [Mukwaya] to find a suitable day to visit Mabira forest with the team I had indicated in order to carry out a site assessment of Mabira with a view of allocating the land," he added.

Daily Monitor has also learnt that the "endorsement" team that was supposed to visit Mabira includes; the Minister of Water and Environment Ms Maria Mutagamba and Agriculture Minister, Eng. Hillary Onek, some MPs, and officials from the National Forestry Authority.

A source on the Natural Resources committee said the MPs are totally opposed to the planned Mabira giveaway and wrote to Museveni saying that they would not be part of the deal. Attempts to reach Dombo yesterday failed as his phone was unavailable.

However, it emerged that Museveni, did not accept the MPs concerns and lashed out at his ministers and government bureaucrats alike, for what he termed as stalling investment at a recent cabinet retreat.

The Dombo committee, a source said, is now worried that the President could give away Mabira completely ignoring the views of other stakeholders.

Nsibambi downplayed the standoff yesterday but when this reporter informed him that Daily Monitor had seen his letters, Nsibambi said: " We are handling that matter."

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