National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has remained tight-lipped on the details and their actions with a Chinese investor who has been red-flagged for deliberately encroaching on River Katonga.
The Authority is in the spotlight after Masaka LC 5 Jude Mbabali blew the lid off a strange activity by the Chinese contractor, who was dumping soil to cover a section of River Katonga known as Ramsar site.
Mbabaali with pictorial evidence explained that he had found the entire stretch filled with soil and the river catchment area completely closed.
“I have been shocked this morning while driving to Kampala to see a section of this river near the bridge at Kayabwe filled up with earth to reclaim land for the construction of a factory. This is not in my district and therefore I have no jurisdiction but I felt concerned, stopped, walked around to see exactly what is going on. When I asked the policemen I found guarding the site whether they are the ones responsible for this, they answered back that it is a Chinese company and that for them they were just hired to guard the site,” Mbabali narrated.
The Masaka District chairman also contacted officials from NEMA but they initially denied knowledge of the activity until social media mounted pressure, prompting them Authority to release a statement.
In a reply by NEMA hours later, the Authority claimed they were not aware of the specific Chinese company but were aware of the person who owned the land next to the site in question.
“A Chinese company acquired 40 acres of land in Kayabwe, Mpigi district from one Mwebasa, and applied to use the land to develop warehousing units. A team of inspectors from NEMA visited the site and discovered that only 6 acres of the land were dry while the rest was not,” a statement from NEMA reads in part.
“NEMA issued a user permit and approval to the company restricting activities to only the 6 acres of dry land. Following an alert from a whistleblower, we inspected the premises and discovered that the developer was undertaking activities beyond the approved 6 acres of dry land. We issued an improvement notice to the developer, instructed them formally to remove the dumped soil and to stop all activities taking place outside the approved area,” the statement continued.
Although NEMA claims that it gave specific warnings to the Chinese company, Nile Post understands those top officials in NEMA while conniving with the said company were aware of the activity but did nothing.
A source privy to the dubious dealings confirms that the investor has had over a month dumping soil in the River but nothing came from NEMA until a whistleblower account.
“There have been reports from both the public and environmentalists about this matter, but NEMA chose to look the other way. They claim they have inspected the premises and issued warnings, whoever wrote that statement does not even have an idea of what company he is talking about. This is beyond it,” a source told Nile Post.
NEMA claims that a team from the Authority visited the site and discovered that the warning and improvement notice was ignored.
“The company has continued to pursue the use of more than 40 acres of land by encroaching on the wetland. Given the previous caution, we have now initiated a process to cause punitive actions against the company, including cancellation of the user permit, the arrest of the owners, the prosecution in courts of law and restoration of the degraded area at their cost.”
No action from NEMA five days later
Nile Post also followed up the matter and discovered that there was no NEMA team at the ground as indicated.
“No one from NEMA has come here to ask about anything. I would have seen them,” one of the guards at the premises told Nile Post.
Indeed, five days following the response from NEMA, there has not been a single arrest made, nor an attempt of the same. Meanwhile, the investor continues to go about his business.
Not the first case for NEMA
In June 2019, President Museveni after several complaints from the public directed for cancellation of licences for Chinese investors that NEMA had given the go-ahead to extend rice fields into Lake Victoria.
In June 2014, NEMA was again in the spotlight after they were sued for negligence when they allowed a Chinese construction company pa common water stream used by residents in Mukono.
Nile Post wonders whether it is coincidental or a deliberate attempt by NEMA officials to enter general dealings with shrewd Chinese investors. It must be the latter.
Environmentalists speak out
Nile Post spoke to Ben Ntale, the Vice Chairman of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), who also maintained that he doubted NEMA’s role in River Katonga encroachment.
“It is very sad and unfortunate, NEMA management should take keen interest, ” Ntale said.
“This wetland is listed in the River Information System (RIS) as of 2006 as site number 1640. It has a long narrow stretch of the swamp from the periphery of Masaka, Nabajjuzi Wetland System, to the major Katonga River system. It provides a spawning ground for mudfish and lungfish, as well as supports globally-threatened bird species and the endangered Sitatunga. This Ramsar site lies in the traditional Buddu county of the Buganda Kingdom, and some of the flora and fauna are closely associated with cultural norms and traditions, especially totems.”
Katonga not the first
Tour operators have just recently lowered their strike tools over the government’s decision to give away a section of Murchison falls for the construction of a power plant by a Chinese investor.