Fobbing Off – Day 74

Posted on May 16, 2012

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Today I’ve decided to stay at the B&B. No gallivanting down country roads or hitching a ride with 9 other people in a four-seater car. It rained hard all evening and this morning so I thought it best not to travel. I’ve given the hotel manager some cash and bought some fuel for the generator so that I can work here.

The interviews with both the natural resources man and the fisheries man at district level were very disappointing but not surprising. The pathetic excuses for not cracking down on illegal activity were the same: “We don’t have the resources…..or we don’t have the funds……there are only three of us in the office…..we are not trained in law enforcement…..we are planning a draft proposal to present to the ministries.”

Errr what exactly do you do all bloody day?!

I learnt yesterday that the commissioner for fisheries Dr Wilson Mwanja Waiswa, was interdicted (arrested and formally investigated) last year (June) following allegations of abuse of office together with the fisheries senior inspector Eric Nadiope. The fisheries man wouldb’t go into detail but I’ve done some digging and found out that Dr Waisawa was asked to handover office but his lawyers brought up a clause about retirement. In the end the case was dropped by the anti-corruption court in Kampala and no one has been able to find out why. His position has been temporarily filled by someone else who is “acting” commissioner. I’m not 100 per cent sure whether the last commissioner has retired or whether he will return.

The fisheries officer knows the boats are made from endangered timber but hasn’t done anything to stop it. He even admitted that people can still register new boats, so they haven’t even put a cap on the number.

He told me: “Corruption is at all levels and it is a disease that is eating up Uganda.”

I’ve also learnt that there are some concerns about the way Nile Perch is exported to Europe. There are allegations over mismanagement in some of Uganda’s fish factories. In the past there were concerns raised by the EU on the product quality – the fish was deteriorating far more quickly than it should. There were claims suggesting the use of unregulated additives being used to falsely increase fish weight. Today smaller catches means that the export market has shrunk. According to data from the fisheries ministry the export market was valued at US $83.4m in 2010 contributing around 15,000 tonnes of fish – and 90 per cent of Nile Perch products are sold for exports.

Seventy per cent of fish harvested in Uganda is immature (that’s from all the lakes), this is illegal. But these fish can be found selling locally and in Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan and Angola…..estimates for the market value is around US $100 million.

With regards to illegal timber felling, the natural resources officer told me that as long as an official district letter is presented at road checks, the lorries can go through.

“What about inspections? How can you be sure the timber being carried is the same timber stipulated in the letter,” I asked.

“Sometimes we check, using a hammer.”

“You’re telling me you check all 200 individual pieces of timber using a hammer on every lorry,” I said doubtfully.

“Ok we can’t check all of them, you are right,” he said defensively.

“But that’s the point isn’t it. Wood like Cordia and whatever other species are endangered are being smuggled and you’ve said you’re aware of it. So what are doing about it? Why can’t you pool resources and work together with the National Forestry Authority?”

The excuses were endless and even he didn’t look convinced by what he was telling me.

“And what about planting trees?” I continued.

“We plant Pine, Eucalyptus….”he stuttered

“…..but they are not indigenous species. Why are you not planting species native to Uganda, is it because they are slow growing and don’t earn you money?” I butted in.

He refused to answer the question.

“If an NGO like the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust can start a project at grass-roots level and get the community involved, why can’t you? Isn’t your job to lobby the government for better practice?”

The interviews were exhausting, but necessary. At the end of the day they both passed the buck telling me I needed to speak to the ministries. There seems to be a lot of people employed but doing very little in my opinion.

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