Daima statement on the proposed repealing of Section 34(2a) of the Forest Conservation and Management Act 2016
Nairobi 25th January 2022 – The proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation and Management Act 2016 has generated a lot of concerns from conservationists, champions of green spaces and Kenyans in general. This is the position of the Daima Campaign, a coalition of civic actors working together to champion inclusive and accessible public green spaces for all Kenyans.
The Forest Conservation and Management (Amendment) Bill 2021 seeks to remove Kenya Forest Service (KFS) from evaluating petitions looking to revoke public forests or change their boundaries before recommending the petition to Parliament. If successful, any person would be able to directly petition the National Assembly for revocation of a public forest or variation of its boundaries without going through the KFS.
While we understand there are competing interests – especially where KFS is accused of failing to expedite the review process or forwarding any recommendations to the National Assembly — we are of the opinion that the amendment could have far-reaching negative consequences in so far as protecting green spaces is concerned.
Firstly, as a movement advocating for inclusive green spaces for all Kenyans, we take seriously any threat to loss of biodiversity particularly green spaces. In its current role, KFS reports that it ensures any petitions are preceded by an independent environmental impact assessment and public consultation. In our view, this guards against the potential for grabbing public forests. The proposed amendment weakens the checks in the petition process – particularly since the only provisions for consultation and independent environmental assessment as part of the petition process are at the discretionary recommendation of the Cabinet Secretary.
Secondly, we feel that if indeed individuals and local communities were not getting redress as a result of KFS’ slow process or failure to recommend to the National Assembly petitions before it, there are better channels to resolve this by setting out specific timelines within which KFS makes a decision on petitions presented to it or provisions allowing petitioners to challenge KFS decisions they are dissatisfied with.
As a movement, our first priority is to safeguard urban green spaces and we are not confident that giving the National Assembly all these powers without ensuring independent Environmental Impact Assessments and public consultations informing parliament’s decision is the right way to go. Also, as a country that is prone to land grabbing, it is paramount that we remain vigilant and insist on a process that has independent checks that are not likely to be compromised by political interest.
To that end if any amendments are to be made it should not be to remove KFS from the review process but instead add other bodies like the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the National Land Coalition (NLC) to make the review process more objective and insist on a timeline that each petition should take before it is recommended to the National Assembly.
As a coalition, we are alive to the need to address existing challenges in the implementation of the law but believe that it is fundamental that this not be done at the expense of meaningful public engagement and independent evaluation of petitions.
Coordinator, Daima Coalition.