Gulu city halts construction of filling station on wetland
todayAugust 11, 2021
By Rosemary Anena
Authorities in Gulu city have halted the construction of a filling station, saying its establishment is illegal and encroaches on a wetland. Mid last month, Oil Energy Company started transporting hardcore construction material to the site, located on Pece Stream at Green valley village in Gulu West division, which authorities say is a gazetted wetland. The wetland was known as a home to papyrus, but it has been encroached on by investors and members of the farming communities for agriculture and washing bays. A three week ultimatum has been issued to the developer to remove all construction materials, failure of which will attract forceful eviction. “Council has issued an ultimatum of 21 days for the developer to remove all construction materials from the site. If he fails to adhere to these instructions, he will then be arrested and prosecuted. And this is partly because we received information that the land on which the project is being established was not approved contrary to the Physical Development guidelines. The physical planning act clearly indicates that before you undertake any project like this one, you must get clearance first and there should not be any ecological encumbrances. There is no way a person can put up such as structure in a wetland”, said Moses Otimong the clerk Gulu city. According to sources, the company submitted their building plan in October 2020 to the City Council for approval along with his land tittle, National Environment Management Authority NEMA certificate to the City Council but all were rejected. Pece wetland is just one of many wetlands in Gulu City that are facing encroachment. In 2017, the Ministry of Water and Environment halted the development of a 334 million shillings Northern Uganda Social Action Funds (NUSAF) project and another project by World Embrace Christian Organization was also halted under similar circumstances, after government accused local leaders for illegally approving projects in garzetted wetlands.
Where is the problem? The environmental officer Gulu City, Johnson Ocan blames some political leaders and technocrats for the continuous acquisition of land tittles in gazetted areas. “They are part of the problem because the district environment officer and the district physical planner endorse most of the documents and land titles by signing them which means the place, they have signed for is a public land but not a swampy area yet most of those areas are swamps.” Meanwhile the office of the Resident City Commissioner has launched investigations into bribery. “We have already encountered one person by the name of Lawrence Okello the managing director of Oil Energy Company. As city authorities, we condemned such act of impunity and whoever is encroaching on wetlands in Gulu must stop immediately, and yes we suspect that money should be exchanging hands. We have launched investigations into this and we think some people are collecting money from these unscrupulous people. By the time we are done with our investigations, those involved in corrupt tendencies will be answerable”, said Francis Okello-Odoki RwotLonyo the Gulu Deputy Resident City Commissioner. When contacted, Lawrence Okello, the managing director of Oil Energy Ltd declined to divulge details of the project.
Directive The National Physical Planning Board (NPPB) wrote to all district chief administrative officers, city clerks and all municipal town clerks, directing them to suspend approval of development applications for fuel stations until developers meet operational guidelines. “In view of the above concerns and in line with the mandate and powers of the board, you are hereby directed to halt approval of development applications for fuel stations with immediate effect,” reads part the November 30 2020 letter by David Wamai, the board’s acting executive director. The directive came following increased construction of fuel stations in road reserves, wetlands and green spaces. The Ministry of Energy remains the key body in issuance of permits to fuel operators. The permits are approved by authorities where fuel stations are to be constructed. According to Section 7 of the petroleum supply Act 2003, the commissioner of petroleum supply receives, evaluates and processes all applications for and approves the granting, assignment, suspension or relocation of all permits in accordance with the law. One of the objectives of this Act is to ensure protection of public health and the environment in all petrol supply operations and installations.
COVER PHOTO: The plot where the developer is planning to establish the fuel station. It is located at Green valley, Central division Gulu city. Photo by Rosemary Anena.