Uganda: Army will help save forests or a hidden agenda?

Three weeks ago the minister of Water and Environment, Hon Maria Mutagamba announced plans to set up tight security to curb environmental crime in Uganda. She said her ministry, in conjunction with that of Defence have designed a White Paper to be presented to the cabinet for discussion before the force is put in place. The special task force that will be known as the National Environment Police (NEPO) is to be created from the police. Muhwezi says the nature of environmental crimes requires that officers are trained in the technical aspects of the environment and provided with mentoring and coaching by a technical environmental arm of government. However this is the issue that is seriously contested by deferent stake holders in the sector. But Anywar, insists NEPO is unnecessary. “I don’t think that is the way forward, have they exhausted other avenues?” she asks. She instead points an accusing finger to the “untouchables” for destroying the environment. “If we take a look at the data of those who are destroying the environment, it is the government officials,” she says, adding, “I was very surprised when Maria Mutagamba said they are going to take on those who are clearing the forests and wet-lands. Why couldn’t she point out those individuals who are clearing our forests?” According to Mr. Onesmus Muhwezi the director of environment monitoring and compliance at National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), NEPO is being instituted to meet the challenges of the times. “Environmental degradation and associated climate change impacts have become a global and human rights issue. The current industrialization drive by the government of Uganda poses a big challenge to maintaining a clean and healthy environment.” Critics of this plan say this could be a plot by the government to either secure the forests to serve their own land needs or protect them from likely infiltration by rebels. “Museveni is the kayungirizi for land in Uganda, he has to identify the land,” said Beatrice Anywar, the shadow minister for environment. She adds, “President Museveni understands bushes in a different perspective. Every bush he sees is a potential hideout for rebels. But why not, he came to power through the bush.” Muhwezi advances several reasons for the formation of NEPO. He says the public is now keen on the state of the environment that they live in. “Reporting of environmental crimes by the general public has increased dramatically in the recent past,” he said, “unfortunately, the response to reports is less successful due to the time lag between when an incident is reported and when action is taken. http://www.independent.co.ug/index.php/news/news-analysis/116-news-analysis/577-army-to-protect-forests-but-critics-claim-hidden-agenda.html

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