Tour operators under their umbrella body, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators have accused government of hoodwinking the public on the ongoing works that will see a power plant constructed along the Murchison Falls.
In June, Electricity Regulatory Authority in an advertisement in the newspapers said in accordance with section 29 of the Electricity Act 1999, they had received a notice of intended application of a license from Bonang Power and Energy (Pty) Limited for the generation and sale of electricity from a hydropower plant proposed to be established near Murchison falls in Kiryandongo and Nwoya districts.
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The same attracted a backlash from the public especially tourism enthusiasts but in response, ERA said the project had not been sanctioned but views from various stakeholders were being received.
On Wednesday, members from AUTO made an impromptu visit to Murchison falls but were astonished by what was found on the ground.
Addressing journalists, AUTO chairperson, Everest Kayondo said it was worrying that government is doing business behind the public’s back.
“Government keeps on saying nothing is going to happen to the falls but the developments on the ground state otherwise. We are scared government is saying one thing and doing another,” Kayondo told journalists.
“It seems as we are negotiating for the falls to stay, in the background plans to destroy the same are ongoing.”
A visit to the falls unearthed new developments showing a new road being constructed passing through Murchison Falls National Park.
According to Kayondo, the developments indicate a wider plan that will see the hydropower plant constructed in a few years from now, a thing he said will kick away the falls.
“What used to be narrow paths are now wide roads more or less like highways but all end at the falls. We saw when dams were constructed the Owen Falls and Bujagali were all washed away. We have every reason to worry.”
Uganda received 1.8 million tourists in 2018 attracting $1.4 billion to account for 10% of the country’s GDP but also being the biggest foreign exchange earner at 24%.
Murchison Falls National Park receives the largest number of tourists of the 10 game parks that Uganda has but according to statistics from UBOS.
Activists say despite the presence of wildlife in other game parks, tourists prefer Murchison for its advantage of the falls.
According to the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, it is appalling that a sector (tourism) which is funded to a tune of less than one percent but earns government over 10% is now under attack.
“If we revived our airline targeting mostly tourists but behind we are trying to destroy a tourist attraction then we have poor planners. Who will the Uganda Airlines transport if Murchison Falls is washed away? Something seems amiss,” Kayondo wondered.
He noted that as stakeholders in the industry, they wrote to President Museveni, Speaker Kadaga, Tourism Ministry and other key government agencies over the Murchison Falls hydropower project.
“We have not got any response from any but we are going to write again demanding for a response from them. We shall unveil plan be if all fails.”
When contacted for a comment, Electricity Regulatory Authority spokesperson, Julius Wandera insisted the falls will not be destroyed noting that the decision to construct the hydropower dam has not yet been finalized.
“The application is still under review and when it is done we shall announce the decision of the board to the public. We called for people’s opinions and the decision of the board will be out probably next week and if not in the next two weeks,” Wandera told The Nile Post.
He, however, insisted that ERA is not helping anyone do away with the falls but rather doing a watchman role on behalf of the Ugandan citizens.
“Some of the people are mistaken thinking it is ERA that wants the falls to be taken away but we are like a watchman who calls you when there is a person who wants to encroach on your land. We should not be crucified because we don’t decide for the hydropower dam to be developed or not.”
About Murchison Falls
The Murchison falls are found on the 1000metres wide Nile River which is the longest in the world but at the falls’ site, the river folds from 1000metres to form a narrow gorge of only 7metres (23 ft) wide before plunging 43 metres (141 ft).
The beautiful scenery as the water swirls around the gorge is a beauty to watch.