Uganda: Developer Blocked From Building in Gulu Wetland

By ALEX PITHUA

Gulu City Council authorities have blocked a developer from constructing a fuel station in a wetland on Pece Stream at Green Valley Village in Gulu West Division, saying it is illegal.

Two weeks ago, the developer, Oil Energy Company, started delivering materials at the site.

"We discovered that the company irregularly acquired that plot without the approval of the municipal council, they went ahead under unclear circumstances and acquired the land title without the approval of the municipal council," Mr Alfred Okwonga, the city mayor, said last week.

Mr Okwonga added that the land in question is gazetted as a wetland thus no development is allowed there.

"We are maintaining our position as a city council to prohibit such illegal practices, we shall follow up how the company acquired the land title and ensure it is withdrawn," he said.

According to the July 21 Compliance Monitoring Report conducted by the Natural Resource Department of the council, the city environmental officer, Mr Michael Christopher Ocan, accused the company of going against the directive of the planning committee to acquire the title.

The report stated that the company obtained its environmental impact and social impact assessment (ESIA) certificate from National Environmental Authority for the land even when the council had blocked the move.

"The act of the developer of depositing such materials and assumption of ownership was found to be illegal," the report stated.

The developer reportedly violated Section 55, subsection (1) of the National Environment Act, which states that any person shall not, without the written approval of the relevant lead agency, given in consultation with the authority, erect, construct, place, alter extend, remove, or demolish any structure that is fixed in, on, under, or over any wetland.

When contacted, Mr Lawrence Okello, the managing director of Oil Energy Ltd, admitted that he was aware of the developments at the site but declined to divulge the details.

"I cannot talk about that to the media, don't mind about how I acquired the place. But we are going ahead to develop the facility," Mr Okello said.

The Office of the Resident City Commissioner has embarked on an investigation to establish how the land titles and the ESIA were acquired.

"We have sent my team to investigate the matter and I was informed that the owner is a businessman from Lira City," Mr Francis Odoki, the deputy RCC, said.

The Natural Resource Department also recommended that the ESIA certificate be terminated until a review is conducted.

"Nema should look at cancellation since the coordinates are inconsistent with the actual site location and the land title should be reviewed and issued consistently to respect the demarcated wetland beacon," the report stated.

Directive

In November 2020, the National Physical Planning Board directed all district chief administrative officers, city town clerks and all municipal town clerks to suspend approval of development applications for fuel stations until developers meet operational guidelines. The decision followed the board's interaction with district local leaders, who queried the increased construction of fuel stations in road reserves, wetlands and green spaces.

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