KAMPALA, The head of Uganda's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Dr. Tom Okurut, has voiced concerns over the agency's inability to bring some Chinese-owned factories in line into adhering to set environmental standards.

The NEMA, a semi-autonomous body, is charged with the responsibility of co-ordinating, monitoring, regulating and supervising environmental management in the country but Okurut told members of Parliament's Natural Resources Committee that most Chinese-owned factories rarely complied with environmental standards, which had resulted in NEMA being flooded by complaints from affected communities.

I think Chinese-owned factories require a special regulator to permanently monitor their compliance with environmental laws and regulations, Okurut said in response to complaints by Mpigi Woman MP Sarah Nakawunde about a Chinese factory spewing choking and nauseating fumes in her district.

Nakawunde told the committee, which is chaired by MP Alex Byarugaba, that attempts by residents to seek relief from the environmental protection body had come to naught as the factory had remained open despite the complaints.

When asked whether the factory in question had come up on its radar, Okurut told MPs that it had once been order closed but later re-opened as the owners, who had parted with a fortune to the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), pressed the authorities for its operations to resume.

Apparently, the factory recycles old tyres, but the fumes it emits has, according to Kabale municipality MP Andrew Baryayanga, seen even drivers plying the Kampala-Masaka road raise complaints to different MPs.

During last year's Labor Day celebrations, President Yoweri Museveni promised to punish technocrats who frustrate investors through corruption and unwieldy bureaucracy. Some government technocrats have confided to lawmakers that many times, they walk a tight rope when it comes to matters of implementing regulations that might turn out to affect the interests of foreign investors.

Earlier, MPs Patrick Nsamba and John Baptist Nambeshe had put Okurut on the spot for heading an institution that selectively implements environmental laws and regulations. Citing the example of the widespread practice of planting eucalyptus in wetlands, Nsamba accused a section of NEMA field officers of winking at the ruinous environmental practice.

When these NEMA officials encounter people planting eucalyptus in wetlands, they do not seek to stop the practice or punish culprits. The discussion is normally about how much money to be paid for them to be left alone, said Nsamba.

Following protracted drought in some parts of Uganda that affected food security in places like Isingiro, Teso and Karamoja, President Museveni had declared war on unbridled environmental degradation whose ability to decimate vital water catchment areas has wider environmental impact. After ordering a stop on encroachment on forests, in April, Museveni ordered the removal of eucalyptus and fishponds from wetlands.

For a country that still relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture, its numerous water bodies notwithstanding, compromising the environment will leave Ugandans with a heavy price to pay, environmental experts have warned the government.



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