Legislators on the Committee of Trade, Tourism, and Industry have rejected an investigative report by the Uganda WildLife Authority (UWA), on the wildfires that burnt Park View Safari Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, citing inconsistences and inaccuracies.
Park View Safari Lodge got burnt on 23 July 2021 destroying 18 structures including cottages, a hall and a sentry box.
UWA’s report indicates that the fire started from community land belonging to Dr Benson Tumwesigye, a staff of Ministry of Health, contrary to what was earlier reported in the media that UWA was responsible for setting fires.
“The cause of fire was a honey harvesting activity in which fire used to generate smoke for chasing bees from honey combs was not extinguished,” UWA executive director Sam Mwandha said in his report.
Mwandha said that staff of the lodge were to blame as they were fond of throwing flammable materials such as plastics and clothes across the fence. This he said increased the intensity of the fire when it reached the lodge’s perimeter wall.
The UWA findings on the lodge’s negligence relate to those of the Uganda Police which all state that the lodge had fire extinguishers and that no information was provided on why staff could not try to put out the fire.
“Park view safari lodge management sighted the fire burning at a distance inside the park. The only effort they employed was record videos and take photographs without bothering to call UWA or any agency for help,” Mwandha said.
MPs were concerned that UWA’s report indicates that UWA reported the fire outbreak case to the forensic department of Police yet Uganda police denied receiving a formal letter about the case.
“The case was never reported to police; procedure requires that any outside body when writing to police should write to the IGP not the department of forensics as alleged by UWA’S ED. But there is no letter in the office of the IGP regarding this matter,” said Maj. Gen Katsigazi Tumusiime, Deputy Inspector General of Police (IGP).
MPs were irked on finding out that whereas Uganda Police commenced investigations a day after the fire gutted Park View Safari Lodge, UWA disregarded Police and hired a private investigator whose findings they said could not be trusted.
“We are trying to see why you did not have confidence in Police; why did you go ahead to hire a private investigator? The chairperson of the committee, Hon Mwine Mpaka asked.
Amuria District Woman Representative, Hon Suzan Amero said it would be legally dangerous for the committee to include such findings in their report that are lacking in accuracy.
“When you go to Dr. Tumwesigye’s farm, there seems not to have been any fire; the grass are grown and are you implicating him when you have no evidence?” Amero asked.
Mwandha reiterated that in addition to their private investigations, satellite imagery from NASA, based in USA indicates that the fire originated from a honey harvesting farm belonging to Dr Tumwesigye.
The committee directed Mwandha to presentr accurate information to the committee.
“The executive director doesn’t seem to have sufficient information. It is procedurally right to ask him to give information we need; he should come another time when he has the information we want,” said Amero.
The committee is conducting an inquiry into the cause of fires that gutted Mazike lodge and Park View Safari Lodge.