2 February 2013

Rwanda: Rema Speaks Out On Land Bill

The Director-General of the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (Rema), Dr Rose Mukankomeje, says there should be no difficulty in deciding what constitutes a swamp, during the ongoing debate in Parliament because there is a law that clarifies things.

On Monday, a debate on what constitutes a swamp ended with no consensus on an appropriate definition as the Chamber of Deputies' standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment discussed a clause on Article 2 (definitions) of the draft law on land use.

Discussions on the issue have been postponed pending further consultations.

"If they really want to avoid confusion and, possibly, unnecessary duplication of work, as a technical person, I know that the current organic law [of 2005] determining the modalities of protection, conservation and promotion of the environment is very clear on what a swamp is," Mukankomeje said by telephone.

"This law is clear on any other pertinent issues. There is no ambiguity."

The environment protection law defines a swamp as "a flat area between mountains with much stagnant water and biodiversity, with papyrus, cypress or other vegetation of the same family." It also defines a wetland as "a place made up of valleys, plain lands and swamps."

On Monday, MP Gabriel Semasaka, and several others, had also suggested that to avoid confusion, especially with different laws having dissimilar definitions, the land use bill should adopt the definition in the current organic law [of 2005] determining the modalities of protection, conservation and promotion of the environment.

Article 2 of the new land use Bill defines a swamp as "a plain area between hills or mountains with water and biodiversity, and where papyrus or carex or plants of their species grow or can grow." It has a new addendum, which says, "A swamp is natural or artificial."

Added bits

This last bit for "precision" was added to "do away with confusions that often manifested," said Eng. Didier Sagashya, the deputy director-general of the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA).

To explain the "confusions" Eng. Sagashya gave the example of Bugarama, an area he said was prepared in the 50s and 60s for cotton cultivation and later became a rice field. He said the area is an artificial swamp.

Eng. Sagashya said in 2007, a "rapid" swamp inventory commissioned by Rema was not done properly as wetlands were mixed up with swamps. It covered all wetlands, yet swamps are just one subset of four elements in a wetland.

Another 'mistake', he said, was that satellite pictures were used yet they did not have enough precision and no follow-up ground verification was carried out.

Eng. Sagashya said thorough studies are underway to identify and map the country's swamps.

MPs say once the definition of a swamp, which is often claimed as "controlled" public land, is not clear, there will be problems, especially since some swamps are not permanent and usually belong to individuals and cannot be claimed by government.

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