22 March 2018

Uganda: Fuel Firm Cited in Illegal Acquisition of Mabira Forest Land

Kampala — A Jinja- based petroleum firm has been accused of fraudulent acquisition of land in Mabira Central Forest Reserve at Najjembe, to build a fuel station and a parking yard.

It is alleged that in 2013, Buikwe District Land Board, without following due process of the law and in violation of environment regulations, allocated 5.7 acre of land to Hared Petroleum Company Limited.

Evidence presented before the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters sitting at the National Records and Archives Centre in Kampala shows that the directors of Hared Petroleum Company; Mr Yusuf Bashir Musa and Mr Yusuf Noordin, employed workers to destroy part of the forest reserve to construct a fuel station, a parking yard and a hospitality centre.

Appearing before the seven-member panel chaired by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, the National Forestry Authority (NFA) sector manager in charge of Mabira Central Forest Reserve, Mr Michael Vulo Ojja, testified that police at Mabira Forest made a report in support of the encroacher when it showed that the land in question was not part of the forest reserve.

He told the Commission that efforts to restore the degraded section of the forest were frustrated by Hared Petroleum workers when they destroyed newly-planted seedlings claiming to have a land title for the land.

"The claimants [Hared Petroleum] did not consult us as neighbours when they were acquiring the land neither did the area land committee speak to us [NFA] when processing the allocation. There is lack of coordination among government authorities because Buikwe District Land Board did not bother consulting us before issuance of the title," he said.

In a separate session, the Commission quizzed Mr Bashir over acquisition of government land without following due process of the law.

He, however, said he was "misled" by his lawyers, the local council leadership and the area Land Committee members.

"In 2013, I assigned a land broker Charles Mugoya to look for me land on Jinja-Kampala highway for me to set up a petrol station and he told me there is land at Mabira- Najjembe. We came to the land and I saw a Police station and the land is neighbouring Mabira Forest and a sugar plantation," Mr Bashir said, adding that the broker and other technical persons persuaded him that the land is not part of the forest reserve.

He testified that through his lawyers, he compensated 12 people who had crops on the land. He said each person was paid Shs2.5 million on top of Shs1,050,000 he paid to the district Land Board as land fees.

The Commission is investigating the effectiveness of statutory bodies in the preservation of wetlands, forests and game reserves.

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