By Sunshine Nalule
I would like to commend the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) for putting in place a number of regulations including the Petroleum (Waste Management) Regulations of 2019, the National Environment (Audit) Regulations of 2020 and others.
In 2019, the president signed into law the 2019 National Environment Act. The new law replaced the old one, the 1995 National Environment Act, because the old law did not provide for emerging challenges such as oil and gas exploitation, climate change and others.
To operationalise the 2019 National Environment Act, it was necessary for the Ministry of Water and Environment in addition to NEMA to put in place the regulations prescribed by the law. Without the regulations, it is hard to enforce the new law. It is therefore commendable that NEMA has taken a step in the right direction and has put in place some regulations.
Today, I call on NEMA to complete and put in place the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) regulations as required by the new law.
The above regulations are needed to govern over ESIA processes. The 2019 National Environment Act prescribes the mandatory conduct of ESIA studies for petroleum, transport, infrastructure and other projects listed under Schedule 5 of the Act.
The conduct of ESIA is necessary for the avoidance, minimisation or mitigation of the environmental and social impacts, risks or concerns of degrading projects.
Amidst the ongoing oil exploitation, oil roads construction, planned water abstraction from Lake Albert to support oil activities and others, the ESIA regulations are urgently needed for the protection of the environment and livelihoods.
While completing and operationalising the regulations, I call upon NEMA to avoid stifling public participation and accountability in ESIA processes through the regulations.
In a memorandum of proposals to fill gaps in the Draft 2019 ESIA regulations that 13 civil society organisations (CSOs) led by Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) sent to NEMA in October 2019, the CSOs raised key concerns.
Among them was the fact that NEMA was trying to:
- Give itself powers to determine whether to invite members of the public in the affected area, and not all Ugandans, to make written and oral comments on an ESIA.
- Give itself powers to determine whether a public hearing on an ESIA was necessary.
- Reduce the number of days within which a notice inviting the public to a public hearing would be made. This will deny the public the time needed to review and make meaningful comments on an ESIA.
- Stop the poor from accessing ESIA documents through prescribing a fee.
- Undermine the involvement of affected cross-border communities in ESIA processes among others.
The above weaknesses stand to stifle accountability, public participation and promote corruption, undermining environmental conservation and efforts to protect community livelihoods.
NEMA should therefore act on the recommendations that the CSOs made to promote good environmental governance.