Rubanda Leaders, Locals Protest NEMA’s Order Stopping Construction of processing plant.

 By Naboth Isaac Niwagaba

Locals from Rubanda District have joined voices with area leaders, including the LC.5 Chairperson, in protest against the National Environmental Authority-NEM’s decision to halt construction of an Atmether processing plant on allegations that it is being built in a wetland.  

The construction of the first processing plant in Rubanda district came to a halt when NEMA ordered VISPA Botanicals Limited to stop activities on the construction site located in Bubare Town Council, along the Kabale-Kisoro road.      

This was after two Rubanda District Councilors reportedly wrote to the environmental authorities accusing Savan Nayankumar, the proprietor of VISPA Botanicals Limited, of setting up the plant in a wetland.       According to the District Authorities, the land in question measures about two acres and belongs to Edith Rubereti, a resident of the same area who holds a freehold land title in her late husband’s name.  

 A March 7th, 2022 letter signed by Barirega Akankwasa, the Executive Director of NEMA, accuses Nayankumar of draining a wetland to establish a factory without approval from NEMA, contrary to section 157 of the National Environment Act No.5 of 2019.      

However, the Rubanda District LC.5 Chairperson, Ampeire Stephen Kasyaba, said the land was not demarcated as a wetland, which is why they had authorized the investor to construct the processing plant.      

Kasyaba contended that the investor had assured them that the plant would not pose any environmental risks, such as air pollution, because it would emit no harmful gases and would only be concerned with drying the atmether, an activity that does not necessitate sophisticated machinery.    

  Kasyaba also noted that the processing plant would employ about 2000 people, and the least paid would be the casual laborers earning between UGX 7000 and 10,000.    

Without revealing names, Kasyaba also accused two District Councilors who petitioned NEMA of expressing support for the government’s plan to evict people from Rubanda wetlands, yet it’s the only viable agricultural land available in the District.

He asked NEMA to provide alternatives before embarking on evicting people from the wetlands.             The Rubanda District LC.5 Youth Councilor, Wilfred Arinda Nsheeka, said he had tried investigating the land in question and found out that it was not a wetland, but some district councilors opposed to development were being used to sabotage the investor at the expense of the locals. Arinda challenged NEMA to provide proof that the atmether processing plant was being constructed in a wetland.    

The Rubanda District Chairperson of the People Living with Disabilities (PWDs), Isa Muhumuza, questioned NEMA’s intention of writing to the investor and their failure to first ask the district authorities how the investor obtained permission to start construction works on the land in question.      

Locals of Bubare Town Council are also protesting NEMA’s orders to stop the processing plant. Hotel operators, including Demitori Niwahanga, Phionah Kyakunzire, and Eunice Tumwebembeze, told our reporter that they are now stuck with food items that they had for sale to over 120 workers who were employed at the construction site.        

  Meanwhile, our reporter spoke to Ms. Edith Rubereti, the owner of the land in question. She said that she had a freehold land title that was acquired in 1972. Ms. Rubereti says the land title was transferred from her late husband’s name to her own in 2021.

      She dismissed claims that the place was a wetland, adding that before they gave out the land for construction, the investor had ensured that it was not a wetland by visiting all the land offices, including Mbarara and Kampala.       Our reporter also spoke to a group of people, including engineers, who had been hired to work on the construction site.

The engineers who preferred anonymity said they were now uncertain about their contracts since their boss had not explained his next step following the order from NEMA.    

  They refused to comment on whether the place in contention was a wetland or not, and attempts to reach their boss, Mr. Nayankumar, were futile since his known phone numbers were unreached by the time of writing this story.

      The Rubanda District Deputy Speaker of Council, who is also the LC.5 Councilor representing Hmaurwa Subcounty, has been at the forefront of condemning the alleged construction of the processing plant in a wetland. However, we are yet to confirm if he is one of the two District Councilors who reportedly petitioned NEMA over the same.