New Environmental crackdown Targets Corporate Organizations

The responsibility of managing the environment in Uganda is by law given to individuals and organizations whose activities impact the environment. 

The law sometimes goes over and above to recommend the required actions that should be taken to manage the environment. For example, Section 49, Clause 1, of the Environment Management Act states that the developer of a project shall establish, maintain, and implement an environmental management system in a manner prescribed by the environmental regulations.

Clause 3 of Section 49 describes an environment management system as a documented, structured framework of processes, practices, and measures—to ensure that project activities are planned, organized, performed, and managed to comply with environmental laws, permits, and licenses to ensure better management of environmental impacts caused by project activities and to demonstrate sound environmental management while improving environmental performance.

In February this year, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) announced that it will start an administrative penalty scheme for environmental breaches in line with Section 172 of the National Environment Act, No. 5 of 2019.

Corporate organizations could, from April 1, 2023, pay up to 6 billion shillings in express penalty fines for flouting environmental regulations.

The month of April is rolling and based on that announcement, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) may knock on the doors of corporate organizations not conforming to environmental laws and regulations anytime.

Some of the environment breaches that NEMA is targeting to punish corporate organizations of include; dealing in activities that result in aggravated pollution, discharge or emission of pollutants into the environment, failure to conduct environmental and social impact assessments and environment risk assessments for projects that require ESIA or ERA, and failure to conduct annual environment audits.

In particular, failure to conduct an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and an Environment Risk Assessment for the projects that require an ESIA or ERA will attract a fine of $6 billion; dealing in activities that result in aggravated pollution discharge or emission of pollutants into the environment contrary to approved standards attracts a maximum fine of up to UGX $6 billion; and failure to conduct an annual environment audit will attract a penalty of up to UGX $1 billion, to mention but a few.

NEMA has in the past proved that it does not joke when it comes to enforcement of environmental laws and regulations having closed factories and stopped activities of some organizations thought to be involved in degrading the environment or thought to be operating outside the environmental laws and regulations.

The regulator advises organizations to comply with environmental best practices or face the possibility of being punished. Environment best practices comprise all practices that protect the environment or lead to sustainable use of natural resources, including those that require organizations to implement environmental standards.

The requirement by NEMA for organizations to comply with environmental best practices cuts across all sectors, including the oil and gas sector. For example, Section 4(a) of the Petroleum (Waste Management) Regulations states that the licensee and the petroleum waste handler shall, in compliance with the environmental principles set out in the National Environment Act, apply measures in the management of petroleum waste that use the best technologies and best environmental practices.

The International Standards Organization (ISO) has developed the ISO 14001:2015 standard that guides the organization in coming up with an environmental management system specifying the best practices  the  organization will take to minimize the impact of its operations on the environment as described by Section 49, Clause 3 of the Environment Management Act. When an organization implements ISO 14001:2015, it will develop an environment management system that enables the organization to operate within the confines of the law.   

Implementing ISO 14001:2015 gives the organization the capacity to conduct internal environmental audits, environmental reviews, and also conduct environment risk assessments such that when external bodies come to do the same assessments and reviews, the organization goe.