A new policy titled the National Environment Management Policy (NEMP) for Uganda 2014 has also been drafted and consultations with diverse stakeholders are ongoing. The new Policy will replace the NEMP (1994).
Indeed, new globalised world with emerging development and environmental issues Uganda urgently requires comprehensive and robust legal and policy framework.
For example, the recently signed post Rio+20 outcome on the “Future We Want”, which emphasises the Green Economy as a new model of development is poignant.
There are also regional efforts like the East African Community policy initiatives and protocols on cross-border natural resources and Environment management and climate change.
Then the need for chemicals management in view of the emerging lucrative oil industry among others.
All these require that Uganda creates a framework that embraces new approaches to contain the emerging environmental threats.
However, questions remain. For instance, will the enactment of a new law and by implication the repeal of NEA, Cap.153 and the proposed policy reform concretely address the snowballing environmental concerns?
Is it not possible to accommodate the emerging environmental issues within the old law by way of amendment?
Whereas it is safe to say that the National Environment Act is the mother law on all matters of the environment in Uganda, it is closely aided by other acts like the Water Act, Cap 152 the Local Government Act, Cap 243 and the Wildlife Act, Cap 200 among others.
All these laws have a number of provisions that have a direct bearing on the environment, so will these laws also be amended or even be repealed?
How come with the forest of laws Uganda has had, the country continues to face environmental degradation and water crisis?
The 1995 Constitution provides under Article 39 that Ugandans are entitled to a clean and healthy environment.
Yet to ensure enhanced compliance to environmental standards, the Government needs not to enact new laws that will not be enforced anyway.
The Government needs to strengthen National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), the principal agency in Uganda, charged with the responsibility of coordinating, monitoring, regulating and supervising environmental management in the country.
Yet NEMA is perennially underfunded and has continually failed to marshal sufficient resources both in finances and personnel to effectively exercise its mandate.
Recently, I had two yet related encounters that enlightened me on the reasons why environmental degradation continues to escalate in Uganda. In a workshop convened by Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas (CSCO) in which Agency for Transformation, a Think and Do Tank, is a member organisation.
One of the policy recommendations in this workshop was that NEMA should be transferred from the Ministry of Environment to The Prime Minister’s office which has more ‘muscle’.
Whereas this recommendation sounds sincere, it glosses over real issues that constrain integrity of environmental management in Uganda. Now, will the transfer of NEMA to the Prime Minister’s office make it more effective?
Was NUSAF meant to rehabilitate northern Uganda not mismanaged in the same office or did the transfer of NSSF from ministry of Gender to the Finance Ministry rid it of the corruption scandals that continue to limit its effectiveness till today?
Under the auspices of a collaborative action between Agency for Transformation and CISCO, I joined other civil society actors on a visit to both CNOOC and Tullow camps and the waste management centre in Hoima and Buliisa districts of Western Uganda.
Whereas these oil companies have made attempts to comply with the environmental standards, they act as their own watch dogs. NEMA officials are thin on the ground yet the District Environmental Officers (DEOs) who report to the local authorities and not NEMA are constrained by lack of funds to enforce compliance.
Most DEOs are actually facilitated by the very oil companies they are supposed to watch over.
The DEOs visit some of the oil sites strictly on terms, time schedules and conditions set by the oil companies.
Yet oil exploration and production, if not well managed, constitutes one of the worst forms of environmental degradation – and portend fierce negative implications for farming communities in Uganda. The Government can change the laws since they are not cast in stone.
However, if these laws do not buttress the effectiveness of NEMA to carry out its mandate, then the wide spread environmental abuse will only continue to escalate.
The writer is the operations officer with the Agency for Transformation, a think and do tank based in Kampala, Uganda