The Executive Director of National Forestry Authority, Michael Mugisa on Monday labored with no success to explain to the commission of inquiry into land matters why NFA has absconded its role of protecting forests.
Mugisa seemed to be ignorant to the fact that several central forest reserves had been encroached on by private individuals and that some of these were using forged NFA letters to grab land.
In a particular case, the Commission tasked Mugisa to explain why NFA was still considering to issue a tree planting license to Sedrick Nsongoza, 43 a private developer who allegedly fraudulently acquired land in a forest reserve in addition to using motorized equipment to clear all the trees there on.
Nsongoza is a brother to prominent businessman Dr. Ephraim Ntaganda.
Last week, Dezderio Kasujja a forest farmer testified to the commission how his 5 hectare forest situated in the Lwamunda Lake shore range in Kajjansi central forest reserve in Wakiso were fraudulently grabbed by Nsongoza.
In 2014, Kasuja had reached an agreement with Nsongoza to transfer part (2 hectares) of his licensing rights to Nsongoza on condition that the latter would grow eucalyptus trees.
“In March 2016, all the 5hectares of our forest were completely cleared using graders. My husband and I had no knowledge of any intention by either Ntaganda or Nsongoza to acquire all the 5 hectares,” Resty Tuta Nampela, 57, wife to Kasuja said in her testimony before the commission on Monday.
Prior to the destruction of the forest, Kasujja and his wife had been notified by people working in the forest that some individuals were destroying their forest.
On reaching the site, the two found Ntaganda along with people armed with guns and others with machines in the forests.
“When my husband asked Ntaganda where he had got permission to cut down the trees, he replied ‘Mzee, I thought we would instead be discussing’. This angered me. I walked away and started crying. All my life I have depended on this forest and my husband’s income had been invested there,” a sad Nampela added.
On March 14 2016, Kasujja wrote to the NFA Executive Director notifying him on how he had been blocked by some individuals from accessing his forest and that he would not be responsible for any subsequent degradation caused.
The letter further stipulated the threat of “the muzzle” that Kasujja was facing.
Kasujja’s 5 hectares were part of close to 100 hectares in the same Kajjansi central forest reserve that Nsongoza acquired under his company International Camping Sites and Super Resorts to construct an eco lodge.
To this date, Kasujja has never got a response from NFA.
It is the failure of NFA to probe the matter raised by Kasujja that prompted Commission Chairperson, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire to accuse the NFA boss of lacking the commitment to protect Uganda’s forests.
She faulted NFA for looking on as people with ill intentions continue to acquire forests in the guise of ecotourism.
“Clearly there could not have been a meeting of minds between Kasujja and Nsongoza given the situation he described in his letter. Why would the NFA Board proceed to discuss Nsongoza’s application in September 2016 for a license to invest in ecotourism, yet the same investor used heavy equipment to grade the forest,” Justice Bamugemereire asked.
She also presented to Mugisa the ‘agreements’ purportedly signed between Kasujja and Nsongoza which the commission found to have glaring inconsistencies.
On face value, it appears as though Nsongoza had signed the agreement in Kasujja’s absence and that some of the witnesses were not known to the latter.
Nsongoza had earlier surprised the commission when he said that the Ush 60m he gave to Kasujja was not included in the agreement because he (Kasujja) had preferred it to be left out.
Mugisa in defense said Kasujja’s letter was never brought to his attention.
“This being a unique incident, NFA is still investigating the issue to understand what occasioned the grading and who was behind it. Looking at the agreements, the differences are conspicuous and glaringly there’s a problem. One of them is a forgery,” Mugisa responded.
He admitted that NFA’s investigation hadn’t detected the anomalies yet.
The Commission also faulted NFA for putting financial compensation before tree restoration especially citing a case where China Construction Company was offered 7 hectares of land for a camping site in a forest reserve while constructing the Kampala – Entebbe Express way.