Gov’t cannot compensate wetland encroachers, says NEMA

He also refuted claims of selective enforcement noting that the exercise looks out for any person that has breached or offended the law.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Executive Director Barirega Akankwasah has noted government cannot compensate encroachers as this would not only invite more encroachments but also would be a tacit approval of illegality.

“Ordinarily the evicted encroachers are supposed to compensate the Government for the cost of restoration in line with Section 133 of the National Environment Act, 2019,” he said in a statement dated June 24, 2024.

Commenting on the recent Lubigi wetland evictions, Akankwasah revealed that Satellite images and their monitoring indicate that the majority of the encroachments came from 2011 to 2015 and evictions and re-entry have been going on since then to-date. The peak of encroachment is as recent as 2022.

“Currently, 214 (Two Hundred fourteen) households have been removed. 101 more households are due for removal to make a total of 315 Mapped and Served Households,” he said.

He also refuted claims of selective enforcement noting that the exercise looks out for any person that has breached or offended the law.

“Some infrastructure in wetlands were established with due process of 5 Government approval and removing them would result in liability to Government. An example is the fuel station Lubigi which obtained approvals in 2017. There are some other establishments with past approvals including some factories. These have been left until the Government decides on such cases,” he said.

Akankwasah noted that the public should not see this as selective enforcement but rather prudence to avoid loss of public funds in avoidable compensations.

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Asked where was NEMA when all this encroachment happened, he explained that day-to-day Management of Wetlands is vested in the Local Governments, Urban Authorities, and Department of Wetlands Management, Ministry of Water and Environment.

“NEMA plays only the Regulatory, Monitoring, Supervision, and Coordination role. We are aware that the mandated institutions do not have adequate personnel, equipment, and operational funds to watch over every inch of wetlands in Uganda. For example, NEMA has had 65 to 132 staff since its creation last year 2023 when these increased to 217. Even if we were to send one person to every district, we would not cover the districts. The ideal staffing would be 2,570 if we factor in 2000 enforcement personnel. Most Districts have no more than 3 Environmental personnel,’’ he said.

He further added, “But even if all the resources, were to be there, it would be unpractical to oversee every inch of the soil of Uganda where there is wetland. This does not happen anywhere in the World. Besides the encroachers mostly degrade at night and weekends under the cover of the darkness.”

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