FISHERMEN JOY…As new bill kicks army off the lake

Government has finally backed off plans to militarise the lakes and water bodies across the country by agreeing to have the Ministry of Agriculture oversee enforcement of responsible fishing in the country.

The shift in the position was revealed by Hellen Adoa, State Minister for Fisheries while appearing before Parliament’s Agriculture Committee that is scrutinising the Fisheries and Aquaculture Amendment Bill 2021 after President Museveni rejected to sign the bill into law, asking Parliament to reconsider the proposal to have both the Police and Army fight illegal fishing in Uganda.

The Minister informed the Committee that the Minister of Agriculture didn’t fail at its duties of monitoring the lake, but trouble begun when the Shs100,000 levy was scrapped off leaving the marine police financially crippled to handle the monitoring of lakes, but if this money is reinstated, this won’t require deployment of Police and army on the lakes.

She explained: “Let the fisheries sector be empowered with some levy, let them do the enforcement, where they fail, they will ask in writing parliament or the security organs to support. We haven’t failed to control the lake as fisheries, but because we are disabled financially, we have failed to reach where we are supposed to go. Where we fail, we can ask our government to reinforce.”

It should be recalled that Speaker Among announced on 7th September 2022 that President Museveni had returned the Fisheries and Aquaculture Amendment Bill 2021 for reconsideration by Parliament citing clause 13 of the Bill, where the Ministry of Agriculture had proposed for the establishment of Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance Unit within the Directorate of Fisheries Resources to protect fish and their environment, fish products and aquatic flora and fauna against fisheries malpractices and generally to enforce the provisions of this Act and any other applicable law.

Further in clause 13(2), Government proposed to have the Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance Unit shall comprise persons appointed by the Service Commission and rained by 0re Uganda Peoples Defence Forces in para-military skills.

However, Parliament rejected the proposal and instead voted to have UPDF replaced with Uganda Police Force on grounds that the constitution only gives Police powers to ensure law and order.

When the Agriculture Committee met on Monday, the MPs failed to reach a consensus and many were happy when Minister Adoa revealed a shift in stance arguing that whether it is the policemen tomorrow in the lake, they need to be facilitated and if they aren’t facilitated, even when angels are deployed on the lakes, they will be tempted by the fishermen money on the lake.

The Minister said that the fisheries sector is the second contributor to Uganda’s GDP 12% and it was time the government ploughed back the money to the fisheries sector by extending low interest loans to the fishing communities to buy fishing nets and boats, which would enable the Government, have a say in their activities.

“The Shs100,000 was charged and it used to help the sector but it was stopped. If we continue as fisheries not to have money to develop the sector while other sectors get money from fisheries to develop themselves, this will make the lake be more depleted. It is very hard to manage a fisherman that you aren’t supporting. The soldier who is on the lake is underpaid. How do you send a sector commander to control all the three districts when you are giving him Shs150,000 after four months,” said Minister Adoa.

A section of legislators from the fishing communities welcomed the development like Susan Mugabi (DWR Buvuma) remarking, “These UPDF officials have always claimed that the marine police failed. But as you stated, these people must have failed because they didn’t have support. These people might have not been given facilitation. So by the government coming up and supporting these people, I think it isn’t too late, the marine police can still do the work effectively other than the UPDF.”

Hellen Nakimuli (Kalangala DWR) said that the fisheries sector is one of those that bring a lot of money for this country, but when you say you want to bring UPDF, because there is a lot of illegal fishing but you haven’t supported the fishermen themselves, you have done nothing.

She remarked, “The army isn’t one of the solutions for illegal fishing because we are all aware, it is part of the illegal fishing, the army is dealing in illegal fishing. If you put the UPDF on the order paper, it means there is a looming war and there isn’t a war in Uganda where you need to ring the army on the lake. Are they going to shoot at fish? At the end of the day, they are going to shoot at the people?”

Another legislator, Abed Bwanika (Kimaanya Kabonero) urged all those interested to have the army brought into the fisheries business to have that provision catered for in the UPDF Act, not the Fisheries legislation, saying such a trend would be dangerous for the country.

He said: “This law that we are enacting is for the management of the fisheries in this country, it isn’t a UPDF Act, we shouldn’t be tempted to graft UPDF into this Act. You don’t go into every law grafting in UPDF, it is going to be very dangerous for our fisheries. We haven’t said that we don’t need UPDF to help when they are needed on the waters, where we need them they can be called into place.”

The Committee is expected to present the report to Parliament before a final decision on the matter is taken.

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