Masaka — Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) officers under the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) have locked horns with the Masaka District chairman, Mr Jude Mbabaali, over pending eviction of more than 1,000 people at selected landing sites on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Although the FPU officers say the landing sites in question are not gazetted and are being used by unscrupulous fishermen to deplete the lake, Mr Mbabaali insists that the decision by the protection unit officers to close the landing sites has no legal basis.
Mr Mbabaali alleges that he has reliable information that some high profile people in government are using FPU officers to evict poor residents from Mumpu and Mutante landing sites in order to put up private business investments under the guise of fighting illegal fishing at the landing sites.
"These landing sites are clearly known by the district leadership and we have been planning to construct some facilities like toilets," he said during an interview with Daily Monitor last week.
"Both landing sites have polling stations where President Museveni got more than 70 per cent in the 2016 general elections and that is a clear indication that government recognises the people there," he added.
Early this month, FPU officials descended on Mumpu and Mutante landing sites in Buwunga Sub- county, destroyed illegal fishing gear and ordered fishermen operating in the areas to relocate.
Mr Mbabaali said the FPU officers executed the operations on the two landing sites without informing district authorities and the affected fishermen were not given a written eviction notice as required by law.
"Closing them [the landing sites] or evicting people from there, will affect the local revenue base of Buwunga Sub-county in particular and the district at large," he defended.
According to the Mutante Village chairperson, Mr David Nsangani Mulalo, the two landing sites have a population of more than 1,000 residents.
Mr Mulalo said the five-day ultimatum given to residents to vacate the area was not enough as many are still stranded.
When Daily Monitor visited two landing sites last week, some fishermen had vacated the areas as others were still pondering their next move. "They (FPU officials) came to sensitise fishermen on good fishing methods and many handed over illegal fishing gear to them willingly, but after wards, their leader told us that our landing site is not gazetted and we should leave," said Mr Mulalo.
Apart from fishing, both landing sites are a beehive of activities with people carrying out economic activities like crop growing and cattle keeping.
Speaking to Daily Monitor about the allegations, Lt Geoffrey Sande, the Armoured Brigade spokesperson, said: "The FPU was put in place to fight against illegal fishing and currently they are sensitising fishermen at non- gazetted landing sites to relocate to the legally recognised areas. No one is going to be forced to leave, we want them to do it voluntarily for their own good" Lt Sande said.
He said the Mumpu and Mutante are not listed among gazetted landing sites, according to records obtained from the ministry of Agriculture.
Mr Francis Kimuli, the Buwunga Sub-county chairperson, revealed that majority of the fishermen in the area have abandoned illegal fishing methods.
"The legal fishing gears are expensive and our local fishermen can not afford them, but if the government supports them, it will be one way of fighting the vice and helping them earn a living," Mr Kimuli said.
The fisheries sub-sector contributes three per cent to the national gross domestic product (GDP) and 26 per cent to the agriculture sector GDP. But statistics from the ministry of Agriculture show that the country loses a lot of income to continued use of poor or illegal fishing methods.
The FPU, which has nearly 106 personnel, was early this year assigned to fight illegal fishing on lakes countrywide. This came two years after Gen Kale Kayihura withdrew all security officers and banned Beach Management Units from lake shore regions following reports that they were conniving with fishermen to use the illegal fishing methods and trading in immature fish.