CLARIFICATION BY THE GOVERNMENT OF UGANDA REGARDING THE CASE STUDY BY OXFAM INTERNATIONAL TITLED: THE NEW FORESTS COMPANY AND ITS UGANDA PLANTATIONS OF 22 SEPTEMBER 2011 ALLEDGING LAND GRABING
The British Charity Oxfam International published in the UK a report on “Land and Power” on 22 September 2011 based on a study on land grabs it ostensibly undertook in five countries: Uganda, Indonesia, Guatemala, Honduras and South Sudan as part of its global GROW campaign.
In Uganda Oxfam International and its partner the Uganda Land Alliance selected as a case study the operations of the New Forests Company (NFC), its international financiers and the actions of the Government of Uganda with respect to the evictions of encroachers in the Namwasa and Luwunga Central Forest Reserves located in Mubende, Kiboga and Kyankwanzi Districts, respectively.
Government welcomes this effort as part of the process by which NGOs as part of civil society help inform and enrich the participatory process of policy development in this country, and raise critical issues for debate. Government also welcomes the NGOs recognition of the importance and value of responsible foreign investment as a means of brining about economic growth in the country. Therefore as we wait for the formal launch of the report here in Uganda, Government finds it imperative to clarify on a number of serious allegations and insinuations which have arisen either directly or indirectly, as a result of the publication of this report and which inaccurately portray Government and the investor, NFC is a bad light. These include but are not limited to:
1. The false reference to the investment in Uganda by the New Forests Company as a land grab.
According to Oxfam a land grab refers to land acquisitions which do one or more of the following:
• Violate human rights, and particularly the equal rights of women
• Flout the principle of free, prior and informed consent of the affected land users, particularly indigenous people
• Ignore impacts on social, economic and gender relations and on the environment
• Avoid transparent contracts with clear and binding commitments on employment and benefit sharing
• Eschew democratic planning, independent oversight and meaningful participation
The insinuation of a land grab by NFC is patently false. Central Forestry Reserves (CFR) are gazzetted areas meant to be held in trust for Ugandans of all generations. This is the constitutional and legal regime which successive governments have adhered to in Uganda. We recognize that due to the breakdown of law and order, and indeed the breakdown of formal government machinery in the seventies and eighties many things went wrong in Uganda. Restoration of the rule of law, protection of human rights and rebuilding the economy have been the hallmarks of this present Government for the past two decades.
The New Forests Company, along with thousands of other applicants applied to invest in the forestry sector in Uganda, specifically to establish and develop private commercial plantations under the Public Private Partnership policy (PPP) of Government in conformity with the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003. The National Forestry Authority licensed the NFC 8,104 ha in Namwasa Central Forestry Reserve (CFR) in Mubende District and 8,700 ha in Luwunga CFR in Kiboga/Kyankwanzi Districts. Government established the PPP policy after wide consultations with all stakeholders as a means of attracting investments in to the forestry sector from investors to support Government efforts at re-claiming encroached lands in Central Forestry Reserves, protecting the dwindling natural forest cover in the country and ensuring a steady supply of timber products to the growing economy. Provision of jobs and contribution to the preservation of our green environment would be spin off effects.
The eviction of encroachers (illegal occupants) out of the Namwasa and Luwunga CFRS were processes for which the NFA was solely responsible as mandated by National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003 and coordinated by the District Security Committees under the Chairmanship of the Resident District Commissioners of the respective districts. This is a responsibility that the NFA has continued to undertake in all other CFRs where there is encroachment as modified by various directives from the State. In the case of Namwasa and Luwunga Government recognizes and appreciates that the investor acted way beyond their mandate as a private investor in ensuring adequate stakeholder involvement and consultation often prompting meetings between various actors in order to ensure open and consistent dialogue in a process that stretched over several months. Indeed I can confirm that the process is still ongoing, and that the process in these two reserves has been the most peaceful and well managed encroachment experience in the history of the NFA.
This Government has pursued a consistent process of ensuring and protecting the rights of all land users as required under our Constitution in a process that is on going up to now. The result of that process is in the Land Act and subsequent amendments enacted by Parliament in conformity with the provisions of the 1995 Constitution. Central Forest Reserves are not lands that are covered under that act.
The NFA has a clear licensing procedure that it uses to assess and grant licenses and then to supervise the performance of the licensees operating in CFRs. Therefore to imply that NFC “grabbed land” is to imply that all the XXXX licenses so far granted to individuals and organizations under the PPP policy are land grabs, and that Government should totally abdicate its constitutional obligation to protect Central Forest Reserves and in the process undermine the socio economic rights of countless Ugandans in the present and future generations. Such an insinuation can only stem from a neo-colonial mindset and is totally disrespectful of the people and institutions of the Government of Uganda, including Parliament which legislates the respective laws that are essential to the proper functioning of a free and democratic society such as Uganda.
I therefore call upon Oxfam to review their findings in this regard with a view of correcting the false impression made in all the minds of all those who have accessed this report about Government or the NFC role in land grabbing.
2. Apparent contempt of court arising out of disregard of legal proceedings in court
The NFA implements the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003 in conformity with Executive Orders issued from time to by HE the President, and the Namwasa evictions of the very few who resisted voluntary vacation were carried out in total conformity with the law. The NFA actions in Luwunga were guided by judgement made by the High Court of Uganda as far back as 1990. That judgment among other issues clearly clarified the definition of “encroachers”, confirmed the fact that one cannot be illegally evicted from a kibanja in a Central Forest Reserve as one cannot legally own a kibanja in a Central Forestry Reserve and that Government cannot be a trespasser in a central forest reserve. The eviction of a the few who resisted voluntary vacation on Namwasa was under the oversight of an Inter Ministerial Committee headed by the then Third Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs. For the record it is important to state that all evictions where they are necessary are have always and continue to be always the responsibility of the NFA which may call upon the support of other organs of Government, and never is the investor allowed to undertake evictions, and that the Government of Uganda never violated any court orders in the case of Namwasa and Luwunga CFRs. It also not true therefore to insinuate that NFC was responsible for the evictions which are an ongoing legal obligation of Government.
I therefore call upon Oxfam to review their findings in this regard with a view of correcting the false impression made in all the minds of all those who have accessed this report.
3. Human Rights abuses including illegal evictions
I confirm that there are no cases reported to the authorities with respect to violations of human rights during evictions. I therefore request Oxfam and the Uganda Land Alliance to bring the evidence of such actions by Government agents, NFC or anyone else which to the Police and or Uganda Human Rights Commission and Government will ensure that appropriate investigations are carried out and any culprits brought to book.
4. Failure to provide compensation or provide for damages to affected people
Figures of encroachers on CFRs are not static and fluctuate from time to time. This is due to the fluid nature of the mostly migrant communities who temporarily settle, cultivate and graze on CFRs.
The NFA established that the number of encraochers at Namwasa CFR has increased to 584 that included persons originating from Kabale, Kisoro, Kibale and Rwanda in 2006. In September 2009 HE the President issued the Executive Directive to ensure the security of forest lands for Kisita Gold Mine and NFC, and an Inter Ministerial Committee headed by the Rt. Hon. Kirunda Kivenjinja, Third Deputy Prime Minster and Minister of Internal Affairs was tasked to oversee this process which included an instruction to identify and compensate by relocation, all encroachers who had settled on the land prior to 1992 in line with the Executive Order halting evictions. 18 families were found legible for compensation satisfying the criteria of settlement prior to 1992. To date due to the delay by the responsible Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development in resettling the 18 families, they are still living on Namwasa CFR and the NFA instructed the NFC not to undertake activities on the 20 ha occupied by those families as Government works on their relocation.
The NFA registered 936 families (6,242 people) as settled on Luwunga CFR in 2005. Due to Court Judgement in the case of Luwunga CFR referred to in (2) above, the Government is firmly of the opinion that none of the 935 households affected at Luwunga at that time qualify for compensation. It should be noted further that people currently settled in the area on Luwunga CFR outside the area licensed to NFC have not yet been vacated.
It is therefore not correct to insinuate that NFC is responsible for the issue of compensation to former encroachers. Compensation is the sole preserve of Government which is fully aware of its obligations and will fulfil them in due course. Indeed Government has on several occasions forbidden the NFC from attempting to effect compensation.
It would therefore be more helpful for Oxam and the Uganda Land Alliance to share with Government any data on individuals who, in their opinion, qualify for compensation rather than making a blanket accusation that does not help anyone, least of all the people whose interests it purports to champion.
5. The need for reform of policies, standards and procedures to eliminate abuse with respect to land issue
Government has always welcomed all those individuals, members of Civil Society and other institutions and agencies who wish to participate in the formulation of public policy in Uganda including policies and laws on land, forestry, investment and human rights in Uganda. The door will continue to be open to those who wish to do so in a manner that is respectful, transparent, honest and mindful of the legitimate opinions and interest of other stakeholders.
In conclusion I wish to affirm that Government views The New Forests Company as a responsible investor who has performed satisfactorily within the legal, policy and regulatory frameworks of Uganda, and who has further demonstrated a clear commitment to the development of Uganda in both a moral and legal sense as is demonstrated by its sterling community development program.
While the model that the NFA has piloted out with NFC on managing encroachment may not be perfect, it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be labelled a land grab. It is in the public interest of all Ugandans that we learn and improve on this model rather than condemning it out of hand on superficial grounds.
I wish to reiterate Government’s commitment to upholding the rule of law in this country and to invite anyone with evidence of the commission of crimes or abuse of human rights to share that evidence with the relevant Government agencies i.e. Police and the Uganda Human Rights Commission and that Government will ensure that justice prevails.
I therefore call upon Oxfam International and the Uganda Land Alliance to take note of the above and ensure that a more accurate version of the report is issued.
Min. of Water and Enviroment
Hon. Maria Mutagamba