When the infectious coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hit Uganda, it left the country’s economy in an injurious state that the government, the private sector and the general public are grappling to recover from due to the pandemic devastations, including thousands of lost human life.
Like many other countries knocked out by the global pandemic has left over 3, 500 dead in Uganda and 6.3m, out of the 512m global cases, dead, the government of Uganda devised recovery plans to resuscitate the economy and bring it back to life.
But in so doing, stakeholders wanted to make sure that the question of environmental preservation and climate change are captured in these government COVID19 recovery interventions. If done, this would help to have a green economy as the country recovered from the pandemic.
In that spirit, Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) commissioned a study on mainstreaming natural capital management into Uganda’s COVID -19 recovery packages. The study intended to, among other things, reveal the extent to which recovery packages worked for or against natural capital and to influence recovery plans to mainstream natural capital in economic decision-making into budgetary, fiscal, monetary and trade policy.
According to ACODE, the study focused on assessing positive measures to integrate natural capital into the recovery including budgetary, fiscal, monetary and trade policies (such as expenditure policies that support afforestation) as against negative budgetary, fiscal, monetary and trade measures which undermine natural capital (such as fiscal and trade incentives for forestry clearance).
And according to the report compiled from the study titled Mainstreaming Natural Capital Into Uganda’s Covid-19 Recovery Packages, Mr. Aaron Werikhe, a consultant, revealed that the government of Uganda deployed mainly four COVID19 Recovery Packages to intervene.
These were through the third National Development Plan (2020/21-2024/25) which was the overall framework for recovery and the Financial Year 2020/21 COVID Recovery National Budget which was aimed at stimulating the economy to safeguard livelihoods, jobs, businesses and industrial recovery.
The other is the Financial Year National Recovery Budget used to speed up economic recovery & driving inclusive growth and then the $281.7m advanced to Uganda Development Bank Limited to lend out businesses.
These packages targeted economic activities like farming, industrialists, water and environment, energy, natural resources exploitation, land use, forestation. According to Mr. Werikhe explanation, these were geared at having an inclusive growth and sustainable use of natural resources that are a factor of production.
But despite the interventions' limitations like delayed or no monetary releases, confidentiality clauses as the case with UDB, poor accountability and uncertainty of the pandemic end, Dr. Arthur Bainomugisha, the executive director of ACODE, was hopeful and positive that the interventions are headed in the right direction.
Dr. Bainomugisha, in an interview with Earthfinds, said: “From this study which has been presented, there is hope. When you look at the policy framework, the legal framework, and the institutional framework, the government has put in place enabling frameworks. The problem now is implementation; to move from rhetoric to practice. We want to see a government that bites,”
He added: “Some of those interventions like recapitalizing UDB, the emyooga money, and also, they have put aside some money for small enterprises which can create jobs should have a consciousness that this money should conserve the environment.
“If you don’t, then you are going to worsen the situation because we are still dependent on the environment and natural resources. People can use this money to cut down trees, to destroy the wetlands and that will not be good in terms of recovery.
“We are saying that these interventions that government is coming up with, to create jobs, to restart companies that had collapsed, to give them a new lease of life, should have a bearing to invest in nature so that it remains stable and provide opportunities to the current and future generations,”
The report recommends that there is a need to initiate and undertake strategic effective dialogue with high impact national expenditure decision making stakeholders such as Parliament & relevant Government Agencies – on the need to green COVID-19 Recovery Packages.
Also, recommended is the necessity to advocate for environmental fiscal reforms such as tax incentives for local green enterprises, deterrent environmental fines & include environment sustainability commitment among investment license access conditions and the need to generate cutting edge analytical studies that elaborate on the direct nexus between human health, the state of natural capital and achievement of planned development goals.
The other recommendations captured in the report are the need to lobby for adherence to social inclusiveness and equity in the design of COVID-19 recovery packages beyond the narrow focus on economic & financial recovery and the development of an engagement strategy with the government to bilaterally track the enforcement of the polluter pays principle stipulated in the new environment Act.