NFA chairman pinned on forest land give-away

By Tom Malaba

KAMPALA. The land probe commission has accused the National Forestry Authority (NFA) board chairperson, Mr Gershom Onyango, of complicity in the giveaway of more than 320 acres of Kajjansi Central Forest Reserve to Logic Real Estate Ltd owned by businessman Ephraim Ntaganda.
Mr Onyango, who was the then acting NFA executive director, wrote a December 20, 2011 letter that permitted the real estate company to use the land.
However, in June this year, the company sued NFA seeking court to restrain the authority from the land, which court granted. The NFA lost the case and the company was awarded Shs943m in general damages and Shs200m in special damages.
But the commission’s deputy lead counsel, Mr John Bosco Souza, yesterday said it was defeatist for Mr Onyango to turn around and claim to protect the forest reserves.
Appearing before the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission, Mr Onyango said NFA had not appealed the court decision within 30 days.
“The board tasked management to seek for the opinion of the Solicitor General,” Mr Onyango said.
However, Mr Souza said it was unnecessary and quoting one of the board members’ statement, the commissioner said there was connivance between NFA staff and encroachers.
On two occasions, the commission went to Kajjansi Central Forest reserve, but the NFA workers refused to show the commissioners the forest reserve. The next time the commissioners were sorrounded by soldiers.
Mr Onyango expressed surprise that management had set aside Shs1.1b to pay the other party. The money was set aside even before the judgement was made.
Court decreed that the encroachers were the rightful owners of the reserve. The company has since subdivided the land and sold plots.
The commission also heard that NFA has 280 cases in court but only has two lawyers, who the team said were too few to handle the cases.
People have also encroached on Kimaka Forest Reserve and have acquired land titles.
Mr Onyango said they requested the Jinja District Land Board to cancel the land titles on the forest reserve.
Mr Souza said the Inspectorate of Government would be called to investigate the matter.

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