The National Environment Management Authority (Nema), has ignored a presidential directive and issued an operational licence to a Chinese firm, Zhong Industries Limited, to expand its rice fields in Lwera wetland on Kampala-Masaka highway.
While addressing local leaders in Masaka District on July 23 during his countrywide wealth creation tour, President Museveni said government will soon cancel land titles issued to individuals in Lwera and other wetlands across the country, insisting that some of the activities currently done in these areas are destroying the ecosystem.
"I hear that there are people growing rice in Lwera [wetland]. I am going to chase them away. Rice [growing] is kisirani (misfortune)," a source that attended the closed meeting, quoted Mr Museveni as having said.
President Museveni said wetlands are part of public land which should not be owned by individuals for their selfish interests.
"Those that acquired titles in Lwera are going to be cancelled. I am going to follow up the matter with Ministry of Lands because no one is allowed to acquire a land title in wetlands... " he added.
President Museveni re-echoed the same message when he addressed journalists at Masaka State Lodge on the same day.
However, two days after he left Masaka, Nema issued a permit to a Chinese investor to use part of Lwera wetland to expand his rice fields.
Daily Monitor has seen a copy of the permit, No. Nema/RB/LS/WT/674, which the environmental watchdog issued to Zhong Industries Limited which manages Lukaya Natural Rice Farm. The company paid Shs100,000 for the permit.
"You are hereby granted a permit to carry out the activity(s) in a wetland of Lwera, measuring 550 hectares for purpose of rice cultivation," a permit dated July 25, signed by the Nema executive director, Dr Tom Okurut, reads in part.
However, Dr Okurut said his office is not aware of any presidential directive stopping activities in Lwera.
"The said permit issued to Zhong Industries Ltd is ours and we own it. I have not received any form of directive from the President about that matter [illegal activities in Lwera] but I have heard about it in media," he said last week.
Mr Don Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary, said presidential directives are supposed to be implemented by ministries and other government agencies, not himself.
"When the President issues a directive, it is not him to implement it, but tasks a line minister or relevant authorities to execute the directive. So, the President did his part and it is up to those below him to implement the directive," he said.
Mr Peter Li Gan, the manager of Lukaya Natural Rice Farm, said: "For the five years we have been here [in Lwera], people have been saying a lot of lies about our activities and also misinformed President Museveni. The fact is that we love the environment, whatever we do we consult experts in Nema."
About the wetland
Lwera Wetland stretches about 20kms on the Kampala-Masaka highway, and is a major water catchment area that connects several rivers and wetlands in Gomba, Mpigi and Kalungu districts and drains directly into Lake Victoria.