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Justice minister Norbert Mao seeks justice for victims of injustice in fishing communities

The agriculture committee chairperson, Hon. Janet Okori-Moe (L) and a member during the interaction with the three ministers

The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon. Norbert Mao, has called for compensation of victims of brutality by security organs charged with policing the water bodies.

Mao, who also chairs the Cabinet Standing Committee on Human Rights, said that reports of human rights violations in fishing communities are rampant and require due attention.

“The provisions of human rights are not suggestions, they are non-negotiable and I believe that where there is a cause, we can recommend to the President to consider ex-gratia compensation. Because these are citizens; some have been maimed, some breadwinners have died,” said Mao.

Mao was speaking before the Committee on Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, on Wednesday, 31 2024 where gave guidance on the petition of the Fish Maws and Traders Association.

He was accompanied by the Minister of Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives, Francis Mwebesa, the Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs, Vincent Ssempijja, and the State Minister of Finance (General Duties), Hon. Henry Musasizi.

Mao criticised the operations of the Fishing Protection Unit of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces, which he said lacked the training to deal with citizens, and was thus escalating human rights violations.

“The UPDF has been playing a supportive role to curb illegal fishing, but it is not trained naturally to handle the stubborn villagers and fishermen. Like the armies all over the world, the UPDF is trained to act in combat situations, they start with force and continue escalating the force progressively. They are, therefore, unsuitable for this task,” said Mao.

According to Mao, the lasting solution to the brutalities on water bodies is the Implementation of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Act, 2022, which creates the Fisheries, Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance Unit to replace the UPDF.

“As a ministry, we are concerned that to date the Fisheries, Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance Unit has not yet been established. We do believe that once this gap is filled, there will be no justification for UPDF to be on the water bodies,” he said.

His counterpart, Mwebesa, informed the committee that government had made steps in response to one of the petitions of fish maw traders, to come up with a treaty to harmonise the fish maw exports to China to give Ugandans liberty to directly trade in China.

“Since the state visit of President Yoweri Museveni to China on 25 June 2019, government has since worked together with China, to conclude a specific fish trade protocol and I am informed this has already been signed,” Mwebesa said.

Minister Musasizi on his part said that the complaint by petitioners that government is overtaxing the fish maw trade is untrue, saying that all the taxes apply to other sectors.

Musasizi and the two ministers rejected the request to reduce taxes such as the export levy of eight percent to two percent, saying it is not justifiable and that the trade is a lucrative vehicle for revenue mobilization.

“A study by the Economic Policy Research Centre on fish maw established that a kilogramme of Nile Perch Fish maw can sell for as much as Shs3.7 million. Therefore, the export levy of eight percent is justifiable and necessary for revenue collection from this lucrative sector,” said Musasizi.

Members of Parliament questioned the study that informed the eight percent export levy, saying fish maw traders rejected it on grounds that it was wrongly calculated and misguiding.

“Where is this sample being extracted, to conclude that one kilogramme of fish maw can cost Shs3.7million? You can have a whole truck of fish maw that does not weigh a kilogramme. This law is ambiguous and incomprehensible to traders,” said Hon. Charles Tebandeke (NUP, Bbale County).

Tebandeke asked why all fishing offenders countrywide are charged at Buganda Road Court which is more of a utility court. He narrated the painful experiences of victims during their transportation to Kampala and how some were first illegally detained in UPDF barracks.

Bukooli Island County MP, Hon. Peter Okeyoh, suggested that matters relating to illegal fishing should be handled at the magistrate courts within local governments.

Hon. Anthony Esenu (NRM, Kapelebyong County) asked government to make the investment atmosphere favourable for the fishing industry by employing similar efforts in the promotion of coffee, milk, and other products.

“Petitioners appealed to Parliament to ask government to create an environment that facilitates growth of the fish maw industry given the comparative advantage of fresh water and good climate,” said Esenu.

He added: “Petitioners are concerned that the industry is run by foreigners and a few well-to-do local traders. The environment is not conducive for continuous investment”.

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