Uproar in House over a proposed law on forests

Saturday February 16 2013

By EMMANUEL RUTAYIRE Special Correspondent

A proposed law on forests caused an impasse in parliament between parliamentarians and Natural Resources Minister Stanislas Kamanzi last Tuesday.

Trouble ensued on the second day of debate over Article 14 of the Management and Utilisation of Forests which members argued that, if passed, it would affect the country’s nascent tree farming business.

“Private forests of two hectares and more shall be managed in accordance with an appropriate plan. However, private forests of two hectares shall be managed according the Minister’s instructions,” the Article reads in part.

MP Juvenal Nkusi described the law as shallow and difficult to implement while his colleague Julian Kantengwa accused its framers of not being in touch with the spirit of easing business environment.

Earn a living from forests

“The general move is to make things easy, and now here we are passing a legislation where a minister shall regulate one, two or three trees,” Mr Kantengwa said while contributing to the debate, which went on till late in the evening.

Mr Kamanzi pleaded with the MPs to pass the law, which he said would preserve the ecosystem and enable citizens to earn a living from forests.

The legislators were also infuriated by a provision in the law that allows the state to nationalise private forests in public interest, which they described as anti-business.

They claimed that the minister had failed to state what constituted public interest and the provision might be abused through infringements on private commercial forests by the government.

Mr Kamanzi told the House of intense pressure on the government by tea estates for more forests to provide firewood but MPs cautioned the Executive to go slow on harvesting of public forests, saying the country was suffering a huge deficit in vegetation cover that negatively affected streams and rivers.

Two years ago the government entered a 49-year concession with New Forests Company to harvest almost 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of pine, cypress, eucalyptus and acacia in the buffer zone of Nyungwe National Park.

Government officials say the concession will see the British company establish a series of processing plants to manufacture value-added wood products for construction, electricity transmission poles and bio-energy.

The minister told parliament that the tree harvesting was long overdue owing to lack of a proper forest management plan, which the new law intended to address.

Conservationists have however warned against removing the buffer, saying it would expose the natural forest, which is rich in flora and fauna, to human activity.

In an interview at Parliament Building, Mr Kamanzi told Rwanda Today that the law would enable forests to serve their dual role – provide sanctuary to biodiversity, add value to tourism and provide materials such as timber for construction and paper.

Tough penalties

The proposed law spells out tough penalties for those who violate its guidelines on the management and trade in forest products as it shall grant prosecutorial powers to the national forest authority.

Article 63 sets out an administrative fine ranging from Rwf100,000 to Rwf1 million to offenders.

Forest products of people caught violating the law shall be seized and auctioned and the proceeds deposited in the Environment Fund, it adds.

It also provides for a national forest inventory to be carried out every 10 years or within a shorter period to determine the forested area, tree species abundance, diversity and condition, tree sizes and volume, tree mortality and forest products harvest ability.