Kampala — Environmentalists have said presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi’s plan to disband the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) for alleged non-performance is an unfair verdict.
Mr Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, in his National Unity Platform (NUP) manifesto, said Nema shall be disbanded and its functions returned to the Ministry of Water for wetlands management.
“NUP pledges to restore ownership of the environment and biodiversity to the people of Uganda and actively begin to protect it. Wetlands, forests, lakes, rivers and other public goods,” NUP stated in its manifesto.
The government statistics indicate that wetland cover declined from 13 to 8.6 per cent between 1990 and 2015. Uganda’s forest cover is currently estimated at 12.4 per cent of its total land area, down from the 24 per cent in 1990 due to deforestation and forest degradation.
However, Mr Frank Muramuzi, the executive director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), in an interview with Daily Monitor yesterday, said Nema is exhibiting under-performance because of political interference and not because of technical incompetence.
“I don’t think Nema should be disbanded because it is an environmental authority which reduces the load on the Ministry of Water and Environment. The ministry has a lot to deal with,” Mr Murammuzi said.
“The only problem with Nema is that they work in fear because of the political clout. This makes them fear to confront investors who have a lot of money,” he added.
Mr Muramuzi pinned President Museveni and ministers for interfering with the operations of Nema.
“If there are weaknesses among the officials of Nema, they should be held accountable and punished. They have the mandate of the people and should protect public resources. They should be given more power,” he added.
Ms Madina Guloba, an economist at Economic Policy Research Centre, who has done studies in environmental management in the country, said the problem Nema is facing cuts across agencies in the country.
“There is probably another Nema at State House that is making decisions on behalf of the agency. It is like what we are seeing with the Inspectorate General of Government (IGG) which is having another sect led by Lt Col Edith Nakalema,” she said.
Cost of disbanding Nema
Ms Guloba said Nema deserves a benefit of doubt, adding that dissolving it would worsen the problems around the environment.
“When you look at how Nema was instituted, it was formed through an Act of Parliament. And now to think of disbanding it, you need to assess its objectives and whether it is failing to execute in the areas,” Ms Guloba said.
Nema is a semi-autonomous institution, established in May 1995, as the principal agency in Uganda, charged with the responsibility of coordinating, monitoring, regulating and supervising environmental management in the country.
“One issue cannot make an institution get disbanded. You need to assess the political economy that Nema is operating in. You have to determine whether the said under-performance started being reported under the new executive director or it has been a long term problem,” she said.
Dr Guloba added: “Then you have to understand whether Nema had a power play in doing its job or not and whether they carried out its mandates without fear or favour.”
After assessing Nema, the Ministry should then be asked whether they have technical capacity to execute the mandate of Nema when it is taken back to the Ministry.
Mr Tom Okurut, the executive director of Nema, said they are constrained by resources and also blamed the public for having little understanding of their functions. “I don’t know why NUP decided to think about something like that. People expect Nema to be super but we work in Uganda and we work within government budget and we can only do what we can do,” Mr Okurut said.
He added: “Our role is to guide the investments. If it can be delivered by some other agency, it is good, but I doubt. If Nema was supposed to perform, then we need Shs100 billion, but if you get Shs20 million what can you do?”