A Shs200m fish hatchery project that was meant to supply fingerlings to fish farmers in Teso Sub-region has turned into a white elephant as a result of poor management, supervision and lack of technical guidance to beneficiaries.
Situated in Ojama Village, Anyara Sub-county in Kaberamaido District on a six-acre piece of land, the hatchery is one of the projects initiated by President Museveni under his poverty eradication campaign through commercial aquaculture.
During the commissioning in 2012, the President donated Shs200m to kick start the project by building fish ponds. At the time, the Ojama Fish Farming Group planned to keep tilapia and cat fish species, with projected earnings of Shs100 million annually.
"You people of the area are sitting on gold but you don't have spectacles to see. Once you go fishing, you will not go wrong. The same project will be rolled out to other areas that have vast swamps like in Lango and Busoga," Mr Museveni said.
However, six years later, there is no business taking place at the site. According to Mr John Robert Engoru, the project caretaker, since 2014, they have not hatched any fish.
Mr Engoru adds that they were later told by district fisheries officials that the site is not suitable for a hatchery.
"The first hatching was done by ministry officials and they also failed to supervise the project after the fish died," he says, adding that the project is not supervised by the district.
According to the project caretaker, both government officials and district leaders will only follow up when they hear of the President's intended tour of the sub-region.
Dr Jack Chen, a fisheries expert from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, had, in April 2016, recommended that the district constructs a borehole from which farmers would draw water to neutralise iron levels in the Ojama swamp water. However, this has not yet been implemented due to limited funds.
Dr Joseph Agaja, the acting district fisheries officer, when contacted, declined to comment on the matter.
The Resident District Commissioner, Mr Jimmy Ebil Segawa, said he has written to Mr Agaja and the chief administrative officer to specifically deal with technical problems affecting the facility.
"Government has invested and I have monitored the facility but the fisheries department seems not to be doing its role," he said.
Mr Segawa said the fisheries department should not just look on as fish farmers suffer.
A district NRM officer, who requested not to be named, said the project was rushed without assessing the suitability of the soils and the water.
District leaders in 2016 closed the fish project following wrangles between the custodian and residents over its management and ownership. They accused Mr Engoru of personalising the project.
Mr Ssegawa said it was unfair for Mr Engoru to claim ownership of the project yet the President invested a lot of money in it to benefit the residents.
"I have no intentions of witch-hunting anybody, I am here to serve but to the best of my knowledge, the hatcheries belong to the community," Mr Ssegawa said.
However, Mr Engoru said although Mr Museveni pledged Shs200m towards the project, it was not meant to benefit the entire community as many people, including the district leaders assume, adding that the input was to spur his projects to a commercial level.