Environmentalists have filed a notice of appeal to contest a judgement dismissing an application challenging the giveaway of Bugoma central forest reserve for sugarcane growing.
Last year, the Water and Environment Media Network, National Association of Professional Environmentalists-NAPE, and Africa Institute for Energy Governance sued the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and Hoima Sugar Limited over plans to clear part of Bugoma forest.
They argued that on August 14, 2020, NEMA granted Hoima Sugar Ltd a certificate of approval of Environment and Social Impact Assessment okaying the use of 21.54 square miles for sugarcane growing and associated developments.
The environmentalists argued that Hoima Sugar made inadequate assessment. For instance, they accuse the farm of not advertising through media for people to respond to their plans as part of the Social Impact Assessment. They further argued that the giveaway of the forest for sugarcane growing presents adverse environmental and climate change threats.
But on May 7, 2021, Justice Musa Ssekaana dismissed their application saying that the environmentalists based their case on distorted facts. He accused them of attempting to suppress the real facts in order to make up their case in court by exaggerating that the entire forest is being cleared for sugarcane planting which wasn’t the case.
Ssekaana said sugarcane was supposed to be planted on 2,393 hectares, not 21 square miles as had been stated by the environmentalists. Now, the applicants through their lawyers Kaganzi and Co. Advocates say the judge erred in his grounds for dismissing the case.
The applicants dissatisfied with the decision want the court to avail them with certified copies of the ruling and typed record of proceedings to enable them to pursue their appeal.
In a joint statement by 21 NGOs making up the Save Bugoma Forest Campaign Group, the environmentalists have described as unfortunate Ssekaana’s ruling. They say the judge failed to address the violations by NEMA and Hoima Sugar Ltd and that his conclusions put Uganda’s environmental resources which are already under immense pressure at risk.
“For instance, the judge’s view that it was okay for the developer not to consult institutions like NFA, UWA, Kikuube district local government and others, while the developer was undertaking the ESIA study is terrible. Such a ruling cannot remain a judicial precedent in our country. This is why we are challenging it,” says Dickens Kamugisha, the chairperson of Save Bugoma Forest Campaign Group.
Another environmentalist, Joshua Mutale says the judge made a wrong conclusion that planting sugarcane in Bugoma forest is not controversial. He says Bugoma forest is an international resource and was about to be gazetted as a national park for enhanced conservation of wildlife including endangered animals.
Bugoma, 155 miles (250km) western Uganda, covers more than 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres). It is the largest remaining block of natural tropical forest along the Albertine rift valley and was due to be designated a national park.
Campaigners said the reserve plays an enormous role in preserving wildlife migration corridors. They plan to appeal against the decision.
The forest is home to more than 34 species of mammals, including nine on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, including grey-cheeked mangabeys and 600 chimpanzees. There are 255 species of birds and 260 species of trees.
Another member of the group, Doreen Namara says the judge made some derogatory remarks that inadvertently curtail civic space. “He said that the SBFC (Save Bugoma Forest Campaign) members who filed the petition were seeking public attention to justify their existence as bodies concerned with environment protection,” said Namara.
The environmentalists say if the judge’s decision is left unchallenged, the mafia groups that are intent on grabbing all of Uganda’s forests and wetlands while being aided by some corrupt government agencies and officials who have continued to misuse and abuse our laws will be given the legal cover that they need to completely destroy the country’s important eco-sensitive areas.
“The judge’s view that NEMA was at discretion not to organize public hearings also sets a bad precedent that must be challenged,” say the environmentalists.
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