The annual debate on the ministerial budgetary estimates in Uganda is a key governance factor in parliamentary practice, and no serious legislator should ignore it.
For very g reasons, I have disagreed with colleagues in the Natural Resources committee of Parliament over how things should move in this year’s budgetary estimates for the said committee. This is the second time I am disagreeing with my committee on principle.
In 2003, I rejected the same committee’s proposal on how the landlord and the kibanja-holder should deal with each other. I, then, filed a minority report, which later became law. I thank the Ninth Parliament for the support it has accorded my minority report on the kaveera menace, the environmental levy, as well as the insistence that no oil should be refined in the absence of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, as dictated by the Environment Act, 1995.
By now, Uganda would be winding up the use and manufacture of akaveera, in compliance with Parliament’s anti-kaveera resolution, which was unanimously passed by Parliament. I moved that motion. It is also on record that Section 3(1) of the Finance Act of 2009 prohibited, with effect from March 31, 2010, the importation, local manufacture, sale or use of sacks and bags of polythene materials.
The former minister for Finance, Sayda Bbumba, was the key-holder of that undertaking. By scientific prescription, polythene material is plastic in nature and non-biodegradable, and can reduce soil productivity due to its inability to decompose. It is an environmental hazard and its decomposition can persist in soilfor over 400 years.
It is imperative to note, therefore, that the danger of polythene materials basically results from their chemical composition rather than the thickness of their microns. In law, the continued use of akaveera would, therefore, be an absurdity. Even the Ugandan courts have pronounced themselves against the use and manufacture of akaveera.
In Green Watch (U) Ltd vs the Attorney General and Nema (2011), Justice Eldad Mwangusya issued a declaration that the manufacture and use of polythene material undermines the rights of Ugandans in enjoying a clean and healthy environment. In the recent budget debate, Parliament held that the move to ban the kaveera menace is a prerequisite and government should put a law in place to enforce that obligation.
Through the same minority report, Parliament has also agreed with me that government should not scrap the environmental levy. That levy should be upheld to boost the monitoring of environmental standards that Nema badly requires in the Albertine graben. Government has been using the environmental levy to do its own things, in open defiance of the Appropriation Act. A special audit should also be undertaken by the auditor general into the collection, disclosure and remittance of that levy.
Parliament has also agreed with me that oil production and the refinery process is a risky trade which should not be undertaken without an environmental assessment programme. Nema must put the EIA programme in place before the refinery begins its work. There must also be a public hearing to thoroughly check the EIA report. On recalling the oil spill that befell the Gulf of Mexico in recent years, no oil refinery process should be allowed to take off until the above requirements have been met.
The development of the oil refinery should not be a monopoly of cabinet. The Natural Resources committee has revealed that the private sector shall own 60 per cent in development of the refinery against 40 per cent for the public sector. It has also been revealed that only 52.45 per cent have been compensated to clear space for the refinery construction.
In my view, that commitment is dangerous. It means, in a nutshell, that our oil has been mortgaged without our consent.
The author is MP for Lubaga South and shadow minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.
Source : The Observer