By Our Reporter
Uganda’s National Environment and Management Authority (NEMA) through the Environmental Police continues to bite culprits involved in the misuse and abuse of the 200 meters buffer zone. The latest from Kalangala is that a Dennis Mubiru together with other 15 suspects have been apprehended for messing up with the buffer zone by not only burning charcoal in the forbidden area but also went ahead to destroy the environment and cultivated crops yet it is illegal as per the act. Their actions also contradict NEMA regulations of Environmental Protection. This very Mubiru claims 200 meters in the buffer zone in Block 25 Division 02 yet a buffer zone is an area of land designated for environmental protection. According to Waiswa Ayazika, the Director Environmental Monitoring and Compliance, disrespect for the buffer zone remains a big challenge but that as an entity, they are more than ready to enforce the details of the Environmental Act.
“We are legally in existence by an act that empowers us to jealously guard against any destruction of the natural endowments. For someone to use the buffer zone if it’s necessary, a permit must be sought with clear indicators about the usage,” he said. Commending Kalangala based Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL), a subsidiary of Wilmar Bidco for respecting and protecting the buffer zone, the determined Director revealed that protection of the green cover should be everyone’s priority in their campaign to preserve the environment. Police records show that this is the third time perennial buffer zone violator Mubiru has been arrested but would surprisingly find his way out of police cells. OPUL being the biggest investor in Kalangala has also suffered Mubiru’s wrath both legally and maliciously. The latter dragged the former to court but for want of prosecution, Kalangala Magistrate’s Court dismissed the case. Oil Palm Uganda Limited undertook an Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) whose approval conditions compel the developer to undertake their operations without compromising the livelihoods of neighboring communities. Having observed the rampant and continuous destruction of the buffer zone and environment generally yet they are under obligation to protect it, management of OPUL notified District authorities to wit RDC, DPC, Environment Officer, DISO among others about the illegal activities in the forbidden zone. The authorities visited the ground culminating into the eventual arrest of Mubiru and group. Unlike before when Mubiru would find his freedom from Police custody, this time round the Territorial Environmental Police (Masaka region) referred the group’s case to the Buganda Road based Utility Court in Kampala for proper handling and management to ensure that the issue is sorted once and for all. The group that got booked at Natete Police Station on transfer from Kalangala, has since been arraigned in court and remanded to Luzira till next month.
According to its operational requirements, it’s the mandate of Wilmar Bidco to protect all buffer zones throughout their plantations as per NEMA regulations failure of which sanctions will be levied against them. The National Environment Act No.5 of 2019 decentralizes environment management in Uganda and gives different strata of responsibility to various stakeholders. Enforcement of the law is specifically shared between NEMA and Environment Police. The biased reporting by an online publication was one of those arising out of an enforcement activity overseen by ASP January Kusiima, the Liaison Officer for Environment Police, Greater Masaka attached to Ministry of Water and Environment. However, NEMA picked interest in the matter as the reported case involved deforestation in the Lake Victoria buffer zone which is protected under the law and also the commercial Oil Palm Industry in Kalangala is among the projects that NEMA regulates making it inevitable for OPUL to be concerned with anyone who abuses the buffer zone. OPUL has since been exonerated of any wrong doing.