The newly elected leadership of the Association of Tour Operators of Uganda (AUTO), held their first meeting with the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), on Thursday 24th July, 2014 in the UWA Board room 3. The meeting, which was held in a very jovial and cordial atmosphere, shared basic information on pertinent issues and identified areas of common interest. The members noted and agreed in principle to:
• Recognize that both UWA and AUTO are independent organizations, with different interests and mandate, but can work together in harmony, for the economic and social development of members and the Country
• To work towards setting up a formal communication channel, where the two Organizations will discuss and resolve decisions on issues of common interest.
In an attempt to address current issues that seem to have strained the relationship between the two organizations in the past:
Management of UWA provided documents to AUTO, clarifying that they had paid all dues to AUTO under the previous arrangement, which was wound up on 30th June 2011 by common consent in Memorandum signed on 2nd November 2010. Management also presented a copy of A UWA-BoT resolution confirming commitment to pay any confirmed outstanding dues to AUTO.
The meeting was informed that UWA will contribute $ 10 from every Gorilla permit sold at $ 600, to support National efforts to develop tourism in Uganda. These funds will be managed at UWA but activities identified jointly by AUTO, UTB and the Ministry.
Management of UWA expressed interest to support members of AUTO, if a scheme that does not involve direct transfer of receipted UWA income, can be worked out.
Noted that the Gorilla on Line system was launched but the Visibility and booking component has not been implemented pending the re-modification of the software to restrict visibility to locally registered Tour Operators only. This will be launched at a later date with proper training of AUTO Staff.
AUTO Executives formally drew the attention of UWA Management to the Challenges being experienced with the newly introduced Smart card. This included the few centers where the cards are sold, the lack of and poor quality of receipts, the need for training the staff operating the system, and requested that a dual system be maintained during this piloting period
Noted the need to review and revise the Gorilla booking guidelines which were signed in 2006. A draft UWA proposal was submitted to the AUATO executives for consideration.
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has commissioned a multi-billion shilling accommodation and events facility in Mbale Municipality to supplement tourism revenue from neighbouring Mt. Elgon Conservation Area (MECA).
The facility named CALDERA Guest house after the famous Mount Elgon Caldera known to b the largest in the world, was commissioned on Thursday July 17 by the chairman of the UWA Board of Trustees, Mr. Benjamin Otto flanked by leaders from the districts neighbouring the conservation area.
The Guest house boasts of ten spacious self contained rooms, a modern restaurant, a bar, conference hall, a room for business centre and open gardens for events. It is located in the centre of Mbale town close to the Mt. Elgon National Park offices.
The property was donated to UWA by IUCN in July 2003.It was formerly used as staff accommodation before UWA undertook to renovate it to transform it into a commercial premise. It has been advertised for private management and got a lot of interested bidders who are still being assessed before the successful one is awarded a contract.
Speaking at the commissioning of the facility, the chairman UWA BoT Mr. Otto applauded the management of UWA on their initiative to put up the facility which will supplement revenue from the traditional tourism attractions on top of providing employment opportunities and services to the local communities.
Mr. Charles Tumwesigye the Deputy Director Conservation at UWA who represented the Executive Director, appealed to the business community and development partners to support the guest house as direct clients, agents and promoters. He said UWA has plans to diversify tourism products in MECA to attract more visitors who will in turn boost business in the neighbouring towns.
The function was graced by the Bugisu cultural leaders, Omukhuka, the Mbale District Resident Commissioner Ms Pamela Watua, Dr. Adonia Bintoora the Manager MECA and several local leaders and representatives of the business community. Ms SAMKA contractors were the firm that carried out the renovation.
UWA BOARD CHAIRMAN MISQUOTED BY DAILY MONITOR
In the Daily Monitor of Tuesday, Issue number 203 dated 22nd July,2014 on Page 19, under the title “Wildlife body defies Museveni on Elgon park evictions” it is alleged that the UWA Board chairman Mr. Benjamin Otto did direct staff to evict the people who are settled in Mt. Elgon National Park illegally by 2016".
It is true the Board members and members of top management spent five working days in the conservation area which includes Pian-Upe and Matheniko Bokora Wildlife reserves on a familiarization tour between July 14th -18th,2014. However,the reporter who has been good at covering issues from the region,this time misrepresented the chairman UWA Board of Trustees Mr. Benjamin Otto when he (reporter) quoted him to have directed that “All these people are in the park illegally and must be evicted before the national political campaigns in 2016”.
On the contrary, the chairman and his board members , did visit the areas degazetted from Mount Elgon National Park in 1983 to resettle the landless Benet which was eventually grabbed by other non-Benets, but were happy to note that the Office of the Prime Minister is leading the process to reclaim some of the land and redistribute it to the genuine landless Benets particularly in Kween and Kapchorwa Districts.
This was the reason the Board members made a courtesy call and held a brief meeting with the RDCs of Kapchorwa and Kween as well as getting a brief from the Land verification committee from Office of the Prime Minister. Indeed the committee in their brief report, did mention the issue illegal claimants for the said land.
The Board also visited the soft wood plantations at Kapkwata, formerly encroached and degraded areas in Mukoto and areas under court injunction in Namisindwa and Mukoto in Manfwa District. They also visited Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve where they commended staff efforts at evicting encroachers from Kukumai and Loporokocho.
UWA respects the communities living around the protected areas and believes in working with the stake holders to follow due processes in solving attendant issues.
The board chairman in fact noted with gratitude the improved relationship between communities living near Mount Elgon National Park and UWA, and nowhere in his remarks to the management and staff of UWA as well as RDCs, did he make a directive on evictions before 2016 or any other period.In fact, the board avoided addressing any groups of people who gathered around the protected area since it was not on his agenda.
The chairman only counseled the neighboring communities,during the commissioning of the Caldera Guest House in Mbale Municipality, to desist from settling in the protected area which is a key water catchment area and susceptible to disasters such as landslides similar to those that hit Bududa area in recent past.
The article insinuates that the UWA board and management are defying the President’s directive to the responsible authorities to find a solution for resettling the affected families and that UWA is tampering with the process of the land verification committee, which is not true by any stretch of imagination.
Conserving for Generations
In an effort to build the capacity of her staff to manage impacts of oil and gas activities in wildlife protected areas, Uganda Wildlife Authority facilitated its staff to carry out a study tour to Ghana in June, 2014. The team comprised of Mr. John Makombo, the Director of Conservation, Mr. Edgar Buhanga, the Senior Planning and EIA Coordinator, Ms. Justine Namara, the Senior Planning and EIA Officer, Mr. Tom Ebong Okello, the MFCA Conservation Area Manager and Mr. Moses Dhabasadha, the Oil Monitoring Warden based in MFCA. The purpose of the study tour was to learn the best practices in the oil and gas sector. Ghana discovered oil in 2007 and the country started production in 2011. Currently oil is being produced from the Jubilee Field in the Atlantic Ocean about 60km away from the Ghana shoreline. The study tour was organized by the Petroleum Department of the Ghana Environment Protection Agency (EPA) equivalent of NEMA in Uganda.
Although Ghana's oil activities are offshore there are similarities on how negative environmental impacts are being handled by the mandated agencies. The study involved a number of meetings and field visits. Meetings were held with both government agencies including the wildlife division, forestry and NGOs and the Wildlife Society. The team went on a field visit to Takoradi coastal city where a gas processing plant is being constructed by Ghana Gas Company Ltd. The Company is also finalizing the construction of a gas pipeline from the gas processing plant to the distribution points. While in Takoradi, the team also visited Zeal Environment technologies, a company that treats and disposes off waste from petroleum industry. This company receives waste from the Jubilee field and treats and later disposes it on land.
The team learnt that it is very necessary to build capacity of institutions that manage impacts of oil activities in terms of personnel and equipments. The rapid response equipments to report any impact that may result from the oil activities given the sensitivity of our Albertine environment is paramount. During pipeline development, sensitive ecosystems including forests and wetlands were avoided which helped to minimize impacts on the environment. Overlapping the pipeline and the existing hydropower line corridor has minimized the footprint, and is an important lesson too here in Uganda. Involvement of all stakeholders in pipeline corridor selection is and will be important when Uganda decides on this.
By visiting the Gas processing Facility the team appreciated the kind of footprints associated with such developments. In our situation the central processing facilities will also have such footprints. Given the level of the footprints, it would be important that all support infrastructure be located outside of the highly sensitive ecosystems to minimise damage. The team recommends such tours for institutions that are charged with ensuring that impacts of oil and gas are minimized to protect Uganda's natural heritage.
by: Justine Namara - Senior Planning and EIA Officer