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UPDF Should take over Management of Forests and Wetlands ASAP

By Obed K Katureebe
 
Some time back in the 90s and 2000, government of Uganda made deliberate efforts to create statutory bodies with a view that this will enhance efficiency and innovation in government. The assumption was that, some sectors within government were too big to be efficiently managed under certain departments within ministries. The decision was further informed by the tremondous success that was registered when tax collections was handed over to Uganda Revenue Authority. As a result, different ministries created statutory bodies with a view of registering similar successes.  
Whereas, some reasonable progress has indeed been achieved in some agencies, there are areas where we have registered complete reversal and in some cases some agencies have become havens of corruption.
For starters, bodied like the National Forestry Authority (NFA), National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) are some of those statutory bodies whose performance is far below expectation. As for the NFA,  it is one entity that has been captured by corrupt mafias to near catastrophic outcomes. Going by the revelations of the ongoing Land Probe Commission by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, government should act immediately to save few remaining forests before they are wipped out completely. For NEMA, the song has always been that they don’t get sufficient funding which is the common excuse always put forward by those so incompetent to put into proper use the available resources.
Government is already mooting the idea of scrapping off or merging some of the statutory bodies that are offering no good or duplicating each other. This however, might take some time and therefore the need for immediate action to save our dear forests and wetlands cannot wait any longer.
Recent reports from various exports put Uganda’s remaining forest cover remain between 9% to 15%. Uganda’s Vision 2040 targets restoration of Uganda’s forest cover from 15% to 24% by 2040 while the second National Development Plan (NDPII) targets to increase forest cover from 15% to 18% of the Uganda’s land surface by 2021.  These, plus the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act (2003) can be good drivers.  However, the challenges of encroachment, capacity of enforcement agencies and corruption remain the biggest obstacle to this realization.
True there has been pressure from the increasing population but that is exactly why we must guard jealously government forest reserves on top of pursuing reforestation programmes to restore forest cover from 15% to 24% by 2040. 
Therefore, government should immediately instruct the UPDF to take over the management of our forests and wetlands. After all, this will not be the first time the UPDF has been called in to play a critical role in departments or agencies that are deemed very lacking. In 2017, President Yoweri Museveni ordered the deployment of the UPDF on the Ugandan lakes to curb illegal fishing methods. Bad fishing methods had led to the dwindling of our fish stocks.
Following the deployment of the UPDF on the lakes, fish stokes have  so far increased and the fish industry is set to grow and earn us the much needed foreign exchange. For example, data from the Directorate of Fisheries Resources in the Agriculture Ministry shows that the total fish captured in Uganda fell by 14.6% from 461,730 tonnes in 2015 to 394, 224 tonnes in 2016 as a result of reduced catches of Nile Perch. A report on fish stocks in Lake Victory 2017 shows that there is an increased number of Nile perch species which contributes the biggest fraction of the total fish tonnage exported every year.
Similar interventions by the UPDF in the management of NAADS have resulted into very visible results. Whereas the NAADS secretariat remained handling issues of procurement, the real distribution chain and extension services is managed UPDF and this has so far yielded good results. They might be still experiencing some challenges largely related with skills; still the results are far better that when NAADS was wholly in charge.  
The beauty of having UPDF to man our forests and wetlands is because of the swift roles they undertake minus demanding for colossal sums of money. Secondly, the UPDF as an institution has demonstrated that they are ideologically clear and besides they have a code of conduct that is totally different from the laiz faire one that tend to dominate the minds of the rest of public servants. 
The president has so far publically expressed his disappointment with both NFA and NEMA and these two organizations have so far failed to style up. To them it is business as usual and in most instances their top managers are blatantly conniving with unscrupulous people to sell off our forests or fill our wetlands with illegal structures.     
  
Finally, the National Forestry Authority is mandated to manage 1.2 million hectares of forestland in Central Forest Reserves. Uganda’s forests are reserved for providing forest products and ensure that public goods like protecting river banks, lakeshores, water catchments and steep slopes, conserving biodiversity, mitigating the effects of climate change and providing amenity and recreation services are delivered to the people of Uganda and the international community. So far NFA’s  performance lives a lot to be desired if not worrying. Let our sons and daughters in uniform come in to sort out this mess. After all most if not all opinion polls that have been undertaken, Ugandans trust the UPDF than any other institution in the country.