ARUA. The local residents of Arua have petitioned the office of the Arua City Clerk and the National Forest Authority (NFA) over the alleged ‘fraudulent’ give-away of Barifa central forest reserve to Denis Lee Oguzu, the Maracha County MP.

In a petition handed over to Cornelius Jobile, the Arua City Deputy Clerk and Robert Owiny, the NFA Range Manager West Nile on Tuesday, the locals alleged that Oguzu was illegally given a 2-year license for Eco-Tourism development and forest conservation activities in the 236 Hectares Barifa central reserve forest.

The locals were led by Kamure Titia, the former Terego district LC5 contestant, Malon Avutia, the Ayivu Division Mayor Elect and Geoffrey Feta, the Ayivu East Division MP Elect.

The aggrieved team accompanied by some members of Arua business community and a section of Ayivu elders alleged that legal and administrative procedures were not complied with in the allocation of Barifa forest thus rendering the entire process irregular, improper and illegal. They said NFA has never involved any of the stakeholders of greater Arua and West Nile about the attempted fraudulent give-away of part of Barifa forest to MP Oguzu.

However, Owiny defended Oguzu, saying he fulfilled all the necessary requirements before getting the said license from NFA.

“In 2017, NFA placed an advert in the print media inviting interested members of the public throughout the country to bid for either tree growing or eco-tourism development. The whole process was done in accordance with the PPDA Act,” Owiny said.

“West Nile had three central reserves advertised for and these included; Arua Central forest reserve (Barifa), Laura central forest reserve and Mt. Kei central forest reserve. So, a number of Ugandans applied for these ventures and after a proper evaluation was carried out, the list of successful bidders was published,” Owiny added.

Barifa FThe Barifa Forest, where the Eco-Tourism development is set to take place

He said it is on this note that Hon Oguzu Lee Denis who had applied for a license to develop an eco-tourism facility in Barifa central forest reserve was given this offer of 10 Hectares.

Owiny stressed that the offer given to Oguzu shouldn’t be mistaken to imply that it gives him ownership of the land or powers to destroy anything that is in existence in that location.

He said Oguzu is rather supposed to improve on the quality of the existing vegetation in that piece of land to make it suitable for eco-tourism purposes.

When contacted on phone, Oguzu equally said he simply acquired the license for eco-tourism development in Barifa central forest reserve legally.

He, however, rubbished the allegation that he applied for the lease of the land on grounds that the National Forest and Tree Planting Act of 2003 doesn't mandate NFA with leasing of public land.

“Such responsibilities are a reserve for bodies provided for in the Land Act. In a CFR, NFA can only license operations and management of activities that are in conformity with the law, conservation of forest resources, promotion of sustainable land use, and contribute to coexistence between central forest reserves and communities for mutual benefit. Most importantly, these activities should have no significant negative environmental footprints as certified by NEMA and their licensing must comply with PPDA law,” Oguzu said.

“Such activities can, among others, include licensing of private tree planting, ecotourism, recreational activities, etc. as is the case in Arua CFR. Under our nation's legal framework, anyone is entitled to benefit from such licensing as long as it's through a transparent public procurement process. Therefore, if a copy of said 49-year lease title exists, let it be made public,” Oguzu demanded.

The MP said any social media outburst whether intended to blackmail, incite including allegations of pressuring any authority to approve any licensed activity is nothing else but of advantage for him and his agents.