Encroachers Should Instead Be Fined With  12-Year Jail Sentence-NEMA Rejects Parliament’s Compensation Demands For Lubigi Wetland Victims

Encroachers Should Instead Be Fined With 12-Year Jail Sentence-NEMA Rejects Parliament’s Compensation Demands For Lubigi Wetland Victims

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By Spy Uganda

Kampala: The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has rejected Parliament’s calls to compensate residents who illegally occupied the Lubigi wetland. Instead, NEMA emphasized that the law requires encroachers to pay a fine of UGX 600 million or serve a 12-year jail sentence for restoring the wetland.

Barirega Akankwasah, Executive Director of NEMA, announced this decision while appearing before Parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities, and State Enterprises (COSASE). The committee is investigating the recent evictions in the Lubigi wetland, which spans Kampala and Wakiso districts.

“Section 55 of the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) Act 2019 provides that a person who encroaches on a wetland commits an offense and is liable to imprisonment of up to 12 years or a fine of UGX 600 million. We are not looking at this as dispossession of title or taking of people’s legal interests on land. We are coming to restore a wetland, so the issue of compensation is not applicable. In our view and according to the law, the person who has encroached should pay the government for the cost of restoration,” Akankwasah said.

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His remarks were in response to a question from Persons With Disability – PWD Representative Mpindi Bumali, who asked NEMA to provide an evaluation report of the land and demolished buildings, questioning why compensation was not considered before the demolitions.

“You realize that the NEMA Act came into place when some people were already on that land. If it is compulsory acquisition, why didn’t you begin with that before demolishing people’s properties? Why didn’t you work with the people to ensure they were compensated?” asked Mpindi.

NEMA’s stance followed concerns from several MPs who called for compensation for the evicted residents. Sarah Naigaga, Legal Affairs Officer at NEMA, reiterated Akankwasah’s position, explaining that the law considers all households issued with restoration orders as offenders. Therefore, restoration is seen as an enforcement action rather than a dispossession of land titles.

“The law deems all households issued with restoration orders as offenders. For that reason, we have deemed restoration as an enforcement action. It doesn’t derive interest or title of the areas restored to NEMA but works to protect the environment for the common good of all, including those affected by the resolution. We have therefore not made any compensation to the persons affected,” said Naigaga.

NEMA informed MPs that 315 households were issued restoration orders before the evictions, and approximately 214 households were removed from the wetland. The exercise is ongoing and will intensify, with NEMA citing the May 2024 floods in Kenya, which resulted in over 300 deaths in Nairobi.

“The households are still a subject of ongoing operations, and the number may increase as we continue to issue more restoration orders. We appreciate the plight of poor people and their need for livelihoods. However, there is a bigger danger in allowing them to remain in the wetland. While it may seem compassionate to leave them undisturbed, the risk of environmental disasters is significant,” remarked Akankwasah.

He further defended the evictions, noting that encroachment on the Lubigi wetland intensified between 2011-2015 and more recently in 2022. Despite several restoration orders issued over the years, residents continued to ignore the warnings.

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“Different parts of this wetland have been encroached and degraded mainly through backfilling with marram for residential, commercial, and industrial structures, and the cultivation of sugar cane, planting of eucalyptus trees, and establishment of flower beds. Efforts to protect Lubigi wetland date back to 2012 when encroachers, including the famous witch doctor Bemba Musota, were removed from the wetland,” said Akankwasah.

NEMA officials highlighted that the Lubigi wetland system, which covers 1,700 hectares, is crucial for flood control, water filtration, pollution control, groundwater recharging, rainfall formation, and habitat for critical biodiversity, including the endangered crane bird, Uganda’s national bird.

“It also contributes to air pollution control and provides a direct source of water for communities along the wetland, as well as resources for livelihood support, including medicinal plants, craft materials, and animal fodder,” Akankwasah noted.

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