By Philip Buda Ladu
The Central Equatoria State Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Forestry and the Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies surfaced at the floor of the State Transitional Legislative Assembly (STLA), Wednesday in response to a summon to them about the state of logging in Kajo-Keji County.
The Central Equatoria State Transitional Legislative Assembly (STLA) summoned the State Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Environment, Minister of Local Government and law Enforcement Agency, and Kajo-Keji County Commissioner two weeks back.
The lawmakers resolved for the appearance of the 2 ministers and Commissioner of Kajo-Keji County to provide answers to the house on the serious concerns raised by lawmakers about the persistent logging in Kajo-Keji County despite issuance of executive order banning the activity.
However, the Commissioner of Kajo-Keji County Kenyi Erasto Michael failed to appear at the parliamentary floor alongside the two ministers who presented themselves to the State assembly on Wednesday 13th April 2022 to answer the queries of the lawmakers.
Lilly Kafuki Jurkin, the State Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Forestry responded specifically to questions directed to her asking her ministry about the licensing of logging business in the county and the percentage of revenues her institution might be getting from the business.
In her response Kafuki distanced her ministry from authorizing the state of forest destruction in Kajo-Keji County saying her office did not grant any logging license to the loggers calling the business illegal.
The Agriculture Minister told the lawmakers that since she assumed office in February 2021 she was served with Gubernatorial Order No.12/2020 banning cutting of logs across the State and she backed up the same by issuing Ministerial Order No.3/2021 for protecting, conserving, and rational exploitation of the forest resources in all counties of Central Equatoria.
“Since the on-going logging taking place in Kajo-Keji County is illegal, the State Ministry of Agriculture, Environment and Forestry was not able to generate revenues collected from forest products, maybe at local level!” Minister Kafuki responded on the question of royalties’ collection.
Additionally, she said the State Ministry of Agriculture, Environment and Forestry didn’t issue any license or permit to those Timber Companies that operate in Kajo-Keji, arguing that they came to Kajo-Keji illegally, without the consent of her ministry.
Question on how comes that the license of those companies remain valid and invoked, following the issuance of several Executive Orders, Minister Kafuki reiterated as a ministry they didn’t issue any single license to a company.
“What is happening there (Kajo-Keji) is illegal logging and we have already issued a Ministerial Order No. 3/2021 beside the Gubernatorial Order No. 12/2020,” she said. “What we are expecting is the honoring of the two orders and enforcing them. The right ministry to do this is the Ministry of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agency, in collaboration with the State Ministry of Agriculture, Environment and Forestry,” Kafuki stressed.
Meanwhile Moro Isaac Jenesio, the Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies also followed suit to answer the questions directed particularly to his office.
Moro was asked to answer questions first, as to why there were no arrests made against companies and individuals continuing with the business of illegal logging, secondly explain what administrative and legal steps his ministry had put in place to mitigate further occurrence of Security incidents in Kajo-Keji.
And thirdly answer the question why Nyepo Payam and Kangapo 1 Payam operate without deployed payam directors.
In his response, Minister Moro Isaac Jenesio cited a number of major security challenges facing Kajo-Keji County which implies that it was difficult to enforce law and order in the county.
The Minister cited the issues of armed cattle herders who threaten the lives and properties of the people of Kajo-Keji, unprecedented deforestation aided by armed and unruly merchants, armed guards and local people from within the community.
He further mentioned the activities of National Salvation Front (NAS) holdout group, encroachment into Kajo-Keji (South Sudan) by Ugandan authorities at the border districts of Moyo and Yumbe, reported incidents of irregular Civil-Military relationship for instance arbitrary arrest and counter accusations of suspected killings of civilians and soldiers, and hostility between the forces of SPLA-IO and the SSPDF.
Moro said the issue of Security has been very challenging in the counties of Central Equatoria State and especially Kajo-Keji County; before and after the decision to revert the Country from 32 States to 10 States and 3 Administrative Areas as part of the Implementation of the R-ARCSS.
He said the issue of logging in Kajo-Keji County has been one of the most challenging and disturbing issues to the government of Central Equatoria State.
The Minister said a technical committee and two other committees that were formed by the Governor and Cabinet respectively that carried out separate investigations on the same persistent logging in Kajo-Keji and the last committee was recommended to be given some time to come up with a conclusive report.
Moro Jenesio said it’s to that respect that those series of committees formed to investigate the lucrative logging business that the role of the Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies was by default delegated to committees who were funded by the State Government.
“As you are aware of the financial situation/difficulty of the State economy with subsequent bearing on the state institutions, the state government could not afford to fund concurrent interventions on the matter of investigation on the continuous logging in Kajo-Keji,” Moro said.
“Due to this incapacitation, the Ministry of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies shall therefore effect any arrest on individuals or companies involved in the continuous logging once the conclusive investigation report has been forwarded to the ministry, or act on a directive from the State Authority to do so” Minister Moro responded on the failure to arrest the loggers.
On the absence of Payam directors in Nyepo and Kangapo I payams, the Minister of Local Government said Payam Directors were deployed to all Payams in Kajo-Keji County vide Ministerial Order No. 3/2021 dated 11th May 2022.
However, Moro said there have been reports of absence of most of the Local Government Administrative Officers at their duty station in which he believes Nyepo and Kangapo I Payams are among. This he attributed it to security and economic challenges in their duty stations.
James Modi Lomindi, the Chairperson of Information Committee at the State Transitional Legislative Assembly said the August House having heard a lot of answers from the two ministers however the Commissioner of Kajo-Keji is missing and he had been given one week to appear so that he gives his accounts of the logging happening in his county.