Parliament has cautioned the government against hiving off gazetted forests to settle squatters.A joint parliamentary committees now wants the government to shelve the idea because it will further deteriorate the conflict between the communities living near the forests instead of solving the problem.
The committee told Land Cabinet secretary Farida Karoney and Environment Chief Administrative Secretary Mohammed Elmi, who had appeared before them, that Parliament will not sanction proposal to hive off part of Mt Elgon Forest reserve.
The Executive is seeking to vary the boundaries of the forest reserve in a move aimed at taking 11,384.127 hectares of the forest.
Joint committee co-chairs Rachael Nyamai (Lands) and Kareke Mbiuki (Environment and Natural Resources) cautioned that hiving off forest land to settle squatters would open a floodgate of similar demands.
Already, a petition seeking to degazette some land has been tabled before the joint committee by Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni on behalf of his constituents, who want some 200 acres of forest land taken for economic development in Ndaragwa Township.
But Subukia MP (Samuel Gachobe) supported the proposal terming it as one of the ways to solve the squatters menace in parts of the country.
Cherangany MP Joshua Kuttuny warned that the move was likely to be turned political thus worsening the crisis in the affected areas.
“The State should come up with new strategy on how to handle the squatter and landless menace even if it takes decades,” said Kutuny.
Benjamin Washiali (Mumias East) told the two CSs that the move will do more harm than good and urged them to reconsider it.
Karoney said there are several settlement schemes in the country, adding that there is need to balance conservation and settlements. She said the matter had already been approved by the Cabinet to be presented before Parliament.