|Minister for Defense and Veteran Affairs, Adolf Mwesige ha finally succumbed to pressure from MPs and Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to issue a comprehensive report on the alleged mistreatment of fishing communities by UPDF officers.
Last week, Kadaga suspended the House sine die after President Museveni’s ministers fabled and failed to explain UPDF involvement in fishing islands.
Kadaga specifically cited out Defense Minister Mwesige and called him a notorious minister for defying Parliament’s directive to explain why UPDF is alleging mistreating fishermen in various islands such as Bavuma Islands, Ssesse Island, Bukhooli Island, Lwapanga Island and others. UPDF has reportedly been extorting money from fishermen, under pretext that the fishing community is engaged in illegal fishing. In Namayingo, residents detailed how UPDF officers were not only tormenting Ugandan fishermen, but had stretched their wrath as far as Kenya and Tanzania and said it was about time the Ugandan Force put an end to their rowdy actions.
On Tuesday, Mwesige defended the UPDF involvement on fishing islands saying that the officers have brought sanity to the lakes by curbing illegal fishing and fishing gears which had resulted into depletion of fish in several water bodies.
“The UPDF enforcers ore conversant with their roles for which they were deployed. Before UPDF personnel join operations of Fisheries Protection Force (FPF), they all go through training on Fisheries laws and regulations and they operate alongside subject matter specialist (Fisheries Officers). They know what mature fish is and what it is not, as prescribed in section 2 sub section (r) of the Fisheries Act Cap 197. If there is any person who can differentiate immature from mature fish, it is the UPDF enforcers,” Mwesige said. The FPF was set up to assist Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in regulating fisheries malpractices.
“Certainly, it is not true that the enforcers apprehend persons with mature fish. The Officers confiscate immature fish as prescribed in laws.”
Mwesige also added that he does not have evidence on allegations that the officers confiscate boat engines and sell them.
“The UPDF enforcers have pursuant to the above provision of the law confiscated engines, which are in its custody. There is no evidence on allegations of selling of confiscated engines, and we request anybody who has information on the same to bring it forward to the UPDF leadership for redress. We provide pictorial evidence of boats whose sizes are not acceptable on our lakes, nets and hooks whose dimensions are not allowable (illegal fishing gear), the presence of local leadership/communities when disposing of illegal gears,” he said.
He also denied allegations that UPDF officers beat a one George Othieno and Fredrick Omondi to death.
“It is not true that UPDF led to the death of Othieno George and Omondi Fredrick. The truth is that, these incidences happened at different times. Around February 2017 after the beginning of enforcement operations, one fisherman who was identified as Othieno George jumped into water to hide away from the enforcers who were on patrol in the wee hours of the morning. At this point, the Marine enforcers embarked on the process of rescuing him. Despite the fact that they got him from the waters alive and gave him first aid, he collapsed dead before he could reach a health center. The District Medical Officer conducted a post mortem and a CID Officer investigated the matter which concluded that Othieno died of drowning. His body was there after recommended to the family of the deceased for burial,” he said.