15 December 2006

Uganda: Mutagamba Called to Clear Forest Saga

Kampala — MEMBERS of Parliament want to get to the bottom of the controversy over forest giveaways.

The parliamentary committee on natural resources has summoned the Minister of Water and Environment Maria Mutagamba to explain why government is using what some MPs called the 'backdoor' to give away huge chunks of forestland without the legislators' involvement.

The minister is slated to appear before the committee on Tuesday.

The government has so far given away Bugala forest in Kalangala to Bidco palm oil project and part of Mabira forest to the Mehta Group to grow sugar.

"This committee has a right to know. We want her to explain why the government is using the backdoor without consulting parliament over this important issue," said John Kigyagi, Mbarara Municipality MP.

Kigyagi, who is the vice chairman of the committee said politicians, especially MPs have handled the issue of forest giveaways lightly and that history would judge them harshly.

He said it was unfortunate for government to try to amend the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act (2003) in order to enable a presidential directive to give away natural forests.

Kigyagi said it would be terrible for the government to bend laws without involving parliament, the legislative arm of the state.

Kaberamaido Woman MP Florence Ekwau decried the rate at which National Forest Authority technocrats are resigning.

"This issue is explosive, it would be better to institute public hearings to receive views from various stakeholders who are not pleased with the giveaways," she said.

Committee Chairman Emmanuel Dombo (Bunyole) said the government has contradicted itself by not listening to scientists who are opposed to the destruction of Mabira yet it encourages the teaching of science subjects.

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