The proposal was made by Huda Oleru (Left), the Minister of State for Veteran Affairs while appearing before Parliament’s Presidential Affairs Committee
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces wants Parliament to consider the idea of having the army deployed in disaster-hit regions so as to deal with security challenges that come with disasters in Uganda.
The proposal was made by Huda Oleru, the Minister of State for Veteran Affairs while appearing before Parliament’s Presidential Affairs Committee to discuss UPDF’s role in fighting disasters in Uganda.
Oleru asked Parliament to consider setting aside a special budgetary provision for UPDF to handle disasters, arguing that although the army has been on first call to intervene in these emergencies, there haven’t been any funds to accompany calls for intervention.
“The UPDF needs to pre-deploy more in disaster prone areas such as in Mt. Elgon and MT. Rwenzori areas for quick response when need areas. These deployments will ensure quick and timely response to emergency situations in order to save lives and property,” she said.
The Minister said the money if allocated would be used to purchase equipment and materials for disaster response operations such as earth moving equipment drones for surveillance, spray pumps in preparations for locust invasion and personal protective equipment in preparation for any surge in covid 19 cases.
However, Minister Oleru’s request for UPDF further deployment received mixed reactions from MPs who cited earlier incidences where UPDF has been deployed but the army officers have turned around and participated in environmental degradation.
Benjamin Kamukama (Ruhaama East) said that in incidences where UPDF has been deployed, the Army attached to those areas have created power centers, and pushed aside the technical people, something that has caused chaos in areas of deployment.
He said, “When your people reach there, they want to do it alone without the staff and in the process, they cause chaos because when you have a gun you have power. There is a problem there, when you go to Mabira, and other forest reserves in active deployment but degradation is still taking place and those are the things that affect our climate.”
Jesca Ababiku, Chairperson Presidential Affairs Committee cited scenarios in Zoka forest, wondering how a charcoal and timber dealer, enters the forest, cuts down trees and take products on local markets without being tracked by any security agency.
“People know UPDF as a very credible institution, we are proud about it. But there are several claims of security agencies being in the forest and also supporting the illegalities,” said Ababiku.
However, it was only Tony Awany (Nwoya County) who supported the proposal to have UPDF allocated a special budget to fight disasters in the country, instead of relying on the general budget given to the Ministry of Defence.
“Whenever a disaster budget is earmarked, let us think of UPDF. I don’t think we have always been thinking of UPDF, we think that is their natural role. Let us enhance UPDF capacity whenever an emergency budget is drawn,” said Awany.
His proposal was backed by Henry Mastiko (UPDF Representative) urging the Presidential Affairs Committee to recommend to parliament to elevate disasters as a security matter if the realization of budget to the Army to fight disasters is to be realized.
Mastiko explained, “This country has been handling disaster as just a usual matter that isn’t of highly security technical matter.”
Ababiku also proposed to have the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness that is housed under Office of Prime Minister to be turned into a fully fledged Ministry to avoid clash of roles witnessed between Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and OPM.
“This Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Management because we are feeling that the implementation role that is under OPM should go to this other Ministry, then the main administrative OPM, should remain with coordination and supervision,” Said Ababiku.
Her remarks come at the time Minister of Disaster Preparedness, Hillary Onek threatened to resign from his job, accusing Premier Nabbanja of hijacking disaster budgets and using highhanded methods of firing the staff at the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness on baseless accusations without establishing facts.