The National Environment Management Authority -NEMA has ordered Speke Hotel (1996) Limited to remove all the soil it has dumped into Lake Victoria before it can be allowed to resume construction works in Kitubulu, Katabi Town Council.
NEMA made the directive after meeting with officials from Ruparelia Group which owns Speke Hotel.
According to NEMA, Speke Hotel acquired a permit to build a hotel where Ssese Gateway Beach was previously located with condition of maintaining the buffer zone of 100metres as provided for in the Riverbanks and lake shore use regulations, 2020.The hotel also applied to a permit to build a marina in the same place but NEMA, in a tweet on December 12, says the application was denied.
Speke Hotel, according to Rajiv Ruparelia, it’s manager, wants to construct a resort and convention centre on Lake Victoria shores in Kitubulu.
The project is reportedly estimated to cost 100 million US Dollars (about 355 Billion shillings), to have a resort with 350 rooms, a convention center and a conference center with capacity to host 3,500 guests.
The project is currently at the stage of ground leveling and construction.
However, NEMA halted the project on December 10, after a video of trucks dumping soil into the lake went viral on various social media platforms.
NEMA claimed the the developer has been carrying out activities without obtaining a permit for developments in a lake shore. The regulator adds that there were concerns of lake shore degradation from soil siltation into Lake Victoria, contrary to conditions of approval in the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Certificate No. NEMA/EIA/11651 issued to the developer in 2020.
As a result, NEMA ordered the developer to halt all activities until the issues are resolved and thereafter environment police officers were deployed to ensure implementation of the Notice to Stop directive.
NEMA management has since inspected the site and also met with Ruparelia Group officials led by Rajiv Ruparelia it’s Managing Director over lake degradation at Kitubulu.
The most recent meeting took place at NEMA head office in Kampala on Wednesday, December 15.
Chaired by NEMA Executive Director, Dr. Barirega Akankwasah, the meeting discussed how to sustainably undertake the project in Kitubulu, Katabi sub-county, Wakiso District, without compromising the integrity of Lake Victoria and the surrounding environment.
Following the meeting, NEMA has ordered Speke Hotel to remove all the soil dumped into or on the fringes of the lake before it can resume construction works.
When our reporter visited the site on Saturday morning, there were trucks ferrying soil out of the site.
This is a reversal of what had been happening since November, according to a responsible citizen Maria Assumpta Nakamya who was alarmed by the soil dumping into the lake in abuse of the environment and raised an alarm.
Nakamya, the responsible Ugandan residing in Entebbe municipality recorded a video of trucks dumping soil in the lake and shared pictures which were widely shared on various social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook. NEMA as a result reacted after the public outcry over the alleged degradation.
Nakamya is happy that NEMA has since intervened and hopes Rajiv Ruparelia and his workers comply with the environment regulations.
Nakamya who is a former Councillor at Entebbe Municipal Council, says she raised her concerns as a law abiding and responsible citizen.
She was reacting to Rajiv Ruparelia’s comment saying she had made the video in order to extort money from Speke Hotel. Ruparelia made the comment during a press conference on December 10, where he refuted Nakamya and NEMA’s claim that his workers were dumping soil in the lake.
Rajiv Ruparelia claimed that Nakamya wants to sabotage the project because she is “not even a resident of Katabi.
He claimed that his workers have been dumping soil in his land, not the lake.
He told our reporter that due to the high water levels of the lake, 7 acres out of 20 acres for the project is currently submerged.
“But we have not entered an inch into the lake even though the lake has eaten into our acreage,” he said.
Martin Aryagaruka, the Ruparelia Group’s Environment consultant had agreed with Rajiv Ruparelia, saying the hotel was not dumping soil in the lake. He said the only breach they had made was to use the lake shores without a permit.
In the last two weeks, NEMA management has inspected the site, resulting in the arrest of two foreigners Mukesh Kumar, 29, and Vasava Bhavikkuman Bhikhabhai, 26, and four Ugandans who were found at the site.
They were arrested after NEMA’s environmental inspectors discovered that the developer was dumping murram into the lake contrary to the ESIA certificate he had been issued to guide the development.
This is not the first time Ruparelia Group is being accused of degrading along lake Victoria shores.
In 2013, over 200 residents of Namulanda and neighbouring Lutembe Ramsey Wetland petitioned Parliament over degradation of the wetland. They accused businessman Sudhir Ruparelia, a founder of Ruparelia Group and father to Rajiv Ruparelia, of expanding his Rosebud Flower Farm Ltd by dumping soil on the over 200 acres of Lutembe Ramsey Wetland and in very proximity off the shores of Lake Victoria.
Lake Victoria is relatively very shallow, measuring a mere 80 metres at its deepest point, making quite delicate and susceptible to dumping.