The Monitor (Kampala)

30 June 2008

Uganda: Govt is Back At Its Cat And Rat Game

column

Without shame, and respect to public opinion, government is back to its old schemes to give away about 7,100 hectares of a national treasure- Mabira tropical rainforest- to Mehta Group for sugarcane growing.

But the most bizarre aspect of this latest government plot is the uncoordinated and contradictory actions of the technocrats who serve in the Ministry of Water and Environment.It's hardly two years when the same technocrats who are now plotting to zone the 29,964 hectares of Mabira and effectively pave the way for its destruction- warned of the severe consequences of such actions.

Early last year these technocrats wrote a detailed memorandum based on scientific evidence that warned of devastating effects that await the country if government goes ahead to change the land use of the forest cover to sugarcane production.

Reminding government about its international and regional legal obligations to conserve and sustainably utilise biological resources, the experts warned that by parcelling out Mabira, the country especially the areas around the forest will suffer water reduction, high temperatures and loss of unique ecosystem whose economic value is estimated at Shs23.3b.

There is no doubt that due to pressure being exerted by the executive to satisfy the greed of a few private investors like the Mehta Group, the same technocrats are now reneging on their word and encouraging the division of the forest into zones. The Ugandan public should be reminded that these machinations by the government will not only worsen the turbulent climatic conditions in the country but are also illegal.

For years now, eminent international researchers have been warning of a climate disaster and Uganda will not be spared if we don't protect what is left of our natural forest cover. And this can be done in many different ways. First is to put pressure on our parliament not to succumb to the executive's illegitimate demands to degazette Mabira forest.

The judiciary should also remain active in the global campaign to protect nature for the benefit of today's and future generations. That's why it's imperative for the public to take keen interest in a petition that has been filed by a coalition of environmental activists in the Constitutional Court challenging government's actions to destroy the forest reserve.

The petitioners led by the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment have argued in their petition that government's determination to parcel out parts of Mabira forest have the effect of limiting the citizens' fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment.

There are quite a number of legal principles that have been developed over time to help preserve a clean and healthy environment. One of them is the intergenerational equity principle that calls for equity and fairness in the exploitation of environmental resources between generations.

In essence the principle demands that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment are maintained for the benefit of the present and future generations.

It's imprudent for government to serve the interests of a few private investors while ignoring the concerns of the majority of the citizens of this country.

On the thorny issue of Mabira where the public has demonstrated unprecedented solidarity in the resolve to protect this national resource, government should take precaution when making decisions that will hurt national interest. The concept of sustainable development comes in hand here. Any development especially President Museveni's much touted industrial development should be ecologically viable.

Situations where such development can cause irreversible harm to the environment should be avoided. The destruction of our forest cover spells trouble for the country's reservoir of biodiversity. The public should remain firm in the struggle to save Mabira forest.

The writer is a journalist and lawyer

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