By D. I. E Aleku
Highly ambitious, dissemination and implementation remain the missing link. Statutory, its architects thought it would herald new dawn to alleviate earth damage.
But that has never been. It’s eight years now since the Environment Ordinance, 2009 was enacted, conservation remains eluding Amuria district.
“Honestly speaking, unprecedented environmental degradation is taking place in the whole district,” says Charles Okwii, one of the Parish Environment persons in the district. “Traditionally, natives have exploited natural resources without any consideration of the environmental impact.”
Damage already caused and the high rate at which it is unfolding is heart-rending. Pro-environment campaigners cannot imagine but wonder the effectiveness of the by-law in the watch of blatant cruel actions against Mother Nature.
Scarcity has given way to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, increased soil erosion and low land productivity. In addition, cultivation in wetlands, overgrazing, over fishing with poor fishing methods, artificial drainage and channeling of wetlands, wildfires, poor infrastructure construction, brick making and sand minding are rife with irreversible consequences.
The ensuing resource-user conflicts have left the local leaders soul-searching with more questions than the answers. Ironically, some of those leaders are accused of fanning the clashes.
Seemingly nationwide, environmental concerns remain least understood even at policy level. Matters to do with nature arising are perceived insignificant.
Drafted in 2009, the bye-law seeks mitigation. In accordance with Section 38 and 40 of the Local Government Act, Cap 243, the objective is harmonized sustainable use of the environment.
“The challenge is that once politicians pass law, implementation remains a thing for the technocrats,” says John Robert Tebenyang, the former district vice chairperson and secretary for Production. “I am not surprised that some councilors have never seen or read the ordinance since it left Kampala.”
The ordinance incidentally mandates every able-bodied in the district aged 18-60 years to plant and manage to maturity one tree annually. At the same time each household plants and manages to productivity five fruit trees.
To the contrary, tree planting here is an individual initiative. The district has no provision to roll out such wishful programmes.
Basically, the department of Natural Resources is short off staff with an avalanche of challenges. Simultaneous whistle blowing for instance from different localities would leave the two officers manning the district office at cross-road where to start.
“Police is our greatest ally but political meddling is killing that alliance,” says Paul Egelu who is the District Forest Officer. “We suspended demarcation of the Amuria-Soroti wetland when some of our politicians influenced the District Police Commander (DPC) to literally side with the suspects leaving us hopeless.”
The Dokolo-Obur-Olekai swamp remains hot-potato. Inter-district collaboration lacks while office of the Resident State Attorney is alleged to hide case files.
Largely, most politicians lack collective responsibility in the name of protecting their ‘votes’. Hook-or-crook, they will stand on the way of justice to let free the offenders.
The support personnel at the sub-counties are Social Scientists with bias in Arts. Equally, sub-counties don’t factor in and prioritize environment.
Headed by the Senior Assistant Secretary, work-plans if any die in boardrooms. Staffs are less interested in monitoring even pilot community nurseries in their own sub-counties.
“Sub-counties have environment focal persons designated in absence of the environment staff,” says one official who preferred anonymity. “The problem lies with the job description, which is not well defined.”
Shocking, the ordinance provides for licensing of forest activities, movement permits and wetland user permits. Revenue accruing is deposited to the district coffers in line with the Financial and Accounting Regulations 1998 of the Local Government Act.
In other words, the ordinance does not conflict the existing legal regime. In fact, it derives its powers from the National Environment Act, Cap 153 and enforces it.
Published by the Solicitor General, the ordinance is dully certified by the Attorney General. Endorsed on the 15/6/2009 on behalf of the First Parliamentary Counsel, the State Attorney, Rachel Nsiyona therein forwarded it to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government for transmission.
Signing for the Permanent Secretary, Patrick K Mutabwire dispatched the ordinance back to the district. Seemingly though, the district council then was preoccupied with the forthcoming 2011 general elections.
The document found itself buried and forgotten in the book-shelves for three years. Though retrieved now, implementation remains an uphill task.
“Personally, I’ve never been commanded to plant a tree,” confesses Julius Olaki who is one of the district dwellers. “Sensitization and community mobilization matter most but locals shun village meetings demanding for sitting allowances.”
The ordinance though golden, remains paper tiger. Deplorable deforestation, bush burning, brick making, sand mining, wetland encroachment and degradation meantime continue unabated.
Brainchild of Julius Ocen then as the district chairperson, the firebrand politician lost his seat to Francis Oluma who in turn lost to Robert Okitoi Erisat, now incumbent. Legislator for Kapelebyong County in the 10th Parliament, Ocen rues missing to implement what he and colleagues drafted.
“It’s a pity we have such a beatiful document yet environment degradation is escalating,” Ocen says. “Nevertheless, it’s not too late for us to utilise the ordinance to reverse the adverse effects now hurting us all.”