28 August 2013

Kenya: Conservationists Up in Arms Over Mutilated Wildlife Bill

A local conservation group has accused the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife of secretly mutilating chunks of the original Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill.

The East African Wild Life Society says parts of the Bill introduced in Parliament last month markedly differ from what different players had agreed on last year.

EAWLS executive director Michael Gachanja says sections related to benefit sharing and accountability of government officials have been changed. The society has also opposed creation of a parallel body to take over licensing roles from the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The proposed Kenya Wildlife Regulatory Council will operate alongside KWS, according to the Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill (2013) introduced in Parliament last month by Majority leader Aden Dualle.

"The introduction of a regulatory council will cause confusion, duplication and is an unnecessary institutional requirement," says Gachanja. KWS, not the new regulatory council, is also the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) management authority with legal responsibility for implanting CITES permits, Gachanja points out. "It is now totally unclear as to who will have that responsibility."

He says the controversial body will add unnecessary expenditure and should be removed from the Bill. The proposed law has been praised across the world because it raises jail sentences and introduces hefty fines for poachers.

It was approved in June by the Cabinet alongside other proposals to end poaching and re-organise wildlife management. The wildlife regulatory council is expected to grant wildlife user rights, and regulate wildlife in conservancies, culling, cropping, research and tourism.

It will be a powerful central body that will widely regulate the 130 private and community land owners who run conservancies on over six million acres of land. EAWLS, one of the oldest conservation NGOs in Kenya, feels that should be left to counties.

Gachanja says different stakeholders agreed on that position in series of meetings organised by a technical committee set up by the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife.

"The draft Bill produced by the technical committee has the County Wildlife Conservation Committees undertaking the facilitation of user rights and licensing, in line with the decentralisation process required by the Constitution," he says.

The ministry established the technical committee in 2010 to address weaknesses in the original Bill and harmonise it with the Constitution. EAWLS say this done was across several meetings, including a peer review process.

In August 2011, a draft was presented to a national stakeholders workshop which was attended by more than 200 participants. The final draft of the Bill was completed in April 2012.

"The understanding was that the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife would then put this draft into the public domain and promote its passage through Cabinet and onto Parliament via the Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution and the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Land," Gachanja says.

Instead, the ministry "secretly" amended the agreed draft Bill by deleting and diluting several sections while introducing strange bodies like the regulatory council. The amended Bill was then cleared by the Cabinet on its first sitting in June after the new government came to power.

EAWLS says the text on Incentives and Benefit Sharing, which had been fully agreed by the technical committee, was changed. "This new text is inferior to the original text. It is very unspecific and introduces issues relating to management rather than incentives," he says.

In the original text communities around parks were expected to receive compensation for protecting animals and also letting their land serve as corridors and dispersal areas. That is now unclear.

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