Dodoma. Deputy minister Kangi Lugola yesterday warned that those who opposed the construction of the Stigler’s Gorge power project risked being jailed.
Mr Lugola told Parliament that the government will roll out the project “come what may”.
The deputy minister from the Vice President’s Office responsible for union and environment said an environmental impact assessment will be carried out before the rollout. He was responding to concerns about the project raised by MPs.
“For your information, the government will go on with implementation of the project whether you like it or not. Those who are resisting the project will be jailed,” he said
MPs differed yesterday over the implementation of the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project at the Selous Game Reserve.
Some lawmakers who debated the 2018/2019 budget estimates for the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism pointed out that the project was a threat to the sustainability of the country’s natural resources.
Even as some legislators called for the project to be delayed until completion of the environmental impact assessment, others urged the government to push ahead with the hydropower project that is expected to generate 2,100 megawatts.
The government plans to unveil the hydropower project later in July, this year, despite growing opposition from environmentalists who fear a negative impact on the renowned park, which is the mainstay of the country’s tourism. The project is touted as Tanzania’s way out of the current power deficiency. The government says it will help the country more than double its electric power generation which is currently estimated at 1,513 MW.
The dam will be built along the Rufiji River, which crosses the Selous Game Reserve, a reason why some natural resource activists are opposed to the project.
The fierce debate started on Monday when lawmakers started discussing budget and gained momentum yesterday.
Minister for Energy Dr Medard Kalemani said yesterday that all environmental procedures will be followed before actual implementation.
When the Parliament sat as a committee, chairman Mr Job Ndugai asked the energy ministry to ensure Tanesco puts in place mitigation plans as the implementation would involve felling of more than three million trees.
“I wonder why the government wants to move on with the project and yet we know well there will be an impact, especially due to felling of trees. Let us get the Environmental Impact Assessment report on the project,” said Mr Peter Msigwa (Iringa Urban-Chadema).
Mr Joshua Nassari (Arumeru East-Chadema) said; “Today, we use very little percentage of natural gas to produce power at Kinyerezi. If we just use 25 per cent of the natural gas transported through the Mtwara-Dar es Salaam pipeline, we could get more than 3,000 megawatts, much more than what we anticipate to generate from Stiegler’s Gorge,” said Mr Nassari.
Mr Nape Nnauye (Mtama-CCM) also asked the government to wait for the environmental impact assessment report saying the current decision to start logging was illegal. Mr Nnauye said that on April 25, 2018 the Tanzania Forest Services (TFS) announced a tender to cut trees in an area within the Selous estimated to be the size of Dar es Salaam.
“This is a very big area that will involve felling trees. Unfortunately, the strategic environmental impact assessment report is not ready,” said Mr Nnauye.
“This is against the law and the Attorney General should help the government to obey laws of the land,” he added.
Mr Zitto Kabwe (Kigoma Urban - ACT Wazalendo) recalled that the government discouraged human activities in the Rufiji River basin, but wondered how the Stiegler’s Gorge project, which is among human activities, was allowed to go ahead before the environmental impact assessment.
“We are not against the project, but we want the clearing of trees for the project delayed until the assessment is done,” said Mr Kabwe.
National Assembly, Mr Job Ndugai, wondered how TFS was involved in the matter. He said; “If you clear all those trees, you must be cursed as those are also living things!”
Mr Ndugai also remarked that wherever hydropower projects were initiated, resistance was always “natural” all over the world.
“Stiegler’s Gorge is good,” he said.
Other lawmakers defended the hydropower project ardently, saying its opponents were misleading the public.
“The tone here is as if all trees around the country will be cleared. Some people are just not patriotic; and I think patriotism should be taught starting from nursery school,” said Mr Omary Mgumba (Morogoro Rural-CCM).
“The environment exists to serve human beings and not the opposite. Even Dar es Salaam was previously a forest, but now its a major city. The setting of the University of Dodoma was also a forest, but was cleared for public interest,” added Mr Mgumba.
Dr Raphael Chegeni (Busega-CCM) asked MPs to reduce complaints as projects such as Stiegler’s Gorge were a result of their demand to ensure reliable power generation.
“There might be impact but we must note that in any change some people must be affected,” he said.