FISHERMEN WOES! Opposition accuse army of aiding illegal fishing

UPDF marines on the lake

BY PRISCA WANYENYA

The Leader of Opposition, Mathias Mpuuga has urged Parliament to carry out a thorough investigation into alleged killings, human rights violations by soldiers of Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) deployed on water bodies, saying that some fishermen have accused the Army of participating and selling off confiscated illegal fish.

Mpuuga said the accusations labeled against the army date back as far as the 9th Parliament but there hasn’t been a solution for people who have only known the lake as the source of livelihood, yet before the lakes were surrendered to classified interests, there was a way fishermen were solving the problem of illegal fishing.

“This House owes it to the people of Uganda either by inquest because information is available that some of the UPDF officers allegedly tracking illegal fishermen are actually involved in illegal fishing and actually, some of these officers are involved in illegal fishing. We have never had the declaration of the revenue from captured fish or the ashes of the burnt illegal fish. The UPDF has no right to execute anyone caught in an illegality,” said Mpuuga.

His remarks were in response to concerns raised by Hellen Nakimuli (DWR Kalangala), who cited the latest case on 29th January 2023 where a one Stephen Masaba was illegally detained and killed by UPDF soldiers on Lake Victoria in Kalangala district, arguing that many fishermen have met a similar fate at the hands of UPDF on pretext of participating in illegal fishing.

Nakimuli said: “The Government should explain the circumstances under which Masaba was killed. Government should compensate Masaba’s family and other islanders who have been killed like other people have been compensated because we have lost quite a number of them.”

Robert Migadde (Buvuma County) accused the Government of abdicating its role of curbing smuggling on borders which is one avenue that the illegal fishing gears are brought into the country.

He said: “But these illegal fishing gears are sold all over Kampala, and pass our borders, URA taxes these same illegal fishing gears then you run after the people yet you can control this at the border points. We want assurance from the Government to ensure that these illegal fishing gear don’t enter the country because it is one way we can control illegal fishing.”

Marksons Oboth, State Minister for Defence tasked the lawmakers accusing the UPDF of committing atrocities on lakes to furnish his Ministry with the names of the officers behind the said crimes, saying the Ministry doesn’t condone such excesses.

“We don’t condone the excesses of some of the officers of UPDF or some of them. UPDF has stood up as a patriotic and nationalistic army with the duty to defend this country and protect Ugandans and property,” said Oboth.

The issue of deployment of the Army on the lakes was a contentious issue even during the consideration of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill 2021 where in clause 13 of the Bill.

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 Trained by Uganda Peoples Defence Forces in para-military skills.

The proposal also sought to empower the Minister in charge of Fisheries in consultation with the Minister of Defence by statutory instrument, to make regulations to organize and deploy the Surveillance Unit as well as determine the terms and conditions of service grades, ranks and appointment and discipline of officers of the Surveillance Unit.

However, Parliament rejected the proposal and instead sought to have UPDF replaced with Uganda Police Force on grounds that the constitution only gives Police powers to ensure law and order, a decision that prompted President Museveni not to assent to the Bill, choosing to return it back to Parliament for reconsideration.

But even on second scrutiny, Parliament sparred with President Museveni on the same issue, and since, the bill has been lying idle on the State House stores gathering dust.

The Deputy Speaker ordered the Ministry of Defence to table before Parliament a statement to explain the latest spat between the Army and the fishermen.

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