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MPs Clash With Fishing Communities Over UPDF Presence On Lakes

Fishing boats at Kaiso landing site

A section of lawmakers on Parliament’s Agriculture Committee have clashed with some members of the Fishing communities, who warned Parliament against making a law that would bar the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) from enforcing responsible fishing on Uganda lakes, saying this would likely deplete fish from the Uganda lakes.

Under their umbrella body, Lake Edward, George and Kazinga Channel Association Fishers, Stephen Katesigwa Chairperson of the Association asked the Agriculture Committee not to recommend for the removal of the UPDF from their role of protecting lakes.

The Association was appearing before the Agriculture committee to give their views on the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2021 that is proposing deterrent punishments for people convicted of committing offenses related to illegal fishing and mismanagement of water bodies .

The group told the committee that if the UPDF is withdrawn from the lakes, the fishing community will be terrorized by illegal persons holding guns who invade them and steal their fishing gears and fish.

Kiiza Kagoro Isimbwa, a member of the Association said that those crying of torture at landing sites are the people who had engaged in illegal fishing methods and added that the people with illegal guns attacking the fishing communities on landing sites are mainly coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 “We are going to face agony, these are very corrupt people who need money. I would request you leave UPDF as law enforcing force on the lakes. Let UPDF continue with enforcing the law, either put some good laws that they shouldn’t torture people because those fishermen are very arrogant. I have realized there is some misinformation to MPs because the people fooling you are the very culprits who are destroying the lakes,” Kagoro said.

He added: “Currently, there is no torture but previously, there was torture and that torture was affecting the culprits who were destroying the lakes. You have not internalized why the President appointed UPDF leaving those technocrats.”

However, Kagoro’s allegations that DRC rebels were behind attacks on fishermen on lakes were rejected by MPs including John Amos Okot (Agago North County) and Maxwel Akora (Maruzi County) stating that the UPDF has no mandate to manage the fisheries resource apart from providing security on lakes.

Akora argued that UPDF laws are very harsh and can’t apply on civilians and the enforcement of their harsh laws are further complicated with the corruption in the chain of command within the army.

 “They rely on command, the commander is corrupt everybody takes the corrupt procedure, we are seeing the same wide corruption. So you may not be dealing with many corrupt people, but you are dealing with a corrupt commander. What we are trying do to here is putting in place an effective law, the UPDF stick to their bit which is security, if there is insecurity on Lake Edward, that we can’t deny their role, let them focus on security, they can patrol, respond but they can’t start managing the fisheries resources,” he said.

Amos Okot said that the proposal by a section of the fishing community violates the constitution since it does not mandate the UPDF to engage in productive activity.

“If it isn’t there in the constitution, then they are doing something illegally. Instead we should be thinking of strengthening the police and monitoring units which isn’t the UPDF because it is going to give us a wrong image that we are in a military government,” said Okot.

It should be recalled that Government recently re-tabled the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2021 and the proposed legislation proposed deterrent punishments for people who would be convicted for committing offenses related to poor fishing and mismanagement of water bodies.

The Fisheries Amendment Bill 2021 seeks to repeal the Fish Act, Cap 197 in order to regulate the growing fish industry and among the practices government seeks to criminalise in the new law is the use of explosives, poison, undersize nets and other illegal fishing gears to catch fish; pollution of the water bodies; illegal movement of fish and fish products; unlicensed boats; and, compromised fisheries officers.

Anyone found guilty and liable of committing any of the above offences will be jailed for eight years. And unlike in the current Fish Act, Cap 197 that provides for a general penalty of Shs10000 or serves a jail term not exceeding two years or both, the new proposal will see offenders upon conviction fined Shs60m (3000 currency points) or serve a jail sentence of seven years or both.

However, there are also other proposals including Shs100m or 3 years imprisonment for counterfeit fishing licenses or permits, Shs60m  fine or 1 year imprisonment for unlawful seizure of prohibited fishing gear or vessel.

The Bill also proposes fine of Shs200m or 10 years imprisonment for a fisheries officer who solicits and takes a bribe, Shs100m or 3 years imprisonment for a persons who manufactures, sells or stores prohibited gears and a fine of Shs60m or 3 years imprisonment for impersonating fisheries officers.

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