The project has already garnered much criticism from environmental activists and lobby groups over its potentially negative impact on the famed Selous wildlife ecosystem which qualifies the reserve to be a recognised UNESCO World Heritage site.
But President Magufuli for one has continued to insist that the project’s potential positive gains - in terms of vastly improving the country’s electricity output and supply capacity - far outweigh the negative, thus the decision to go ahead with it remains irreversible.
This government position was further underlined by last week’s announcement that the Tanzania Forest Service (TFS) was set to float an international tender for the logging of more than 100,000 hectares of trees in the Selous Game Reserve to pave way for the mega-power project.
“After it was established that the project’s implementation will inevitably lead to the destruction of those trees, we didn’t want them to go to waste and have chosen to sell them instead,” TFS chief executive officer Prof Dos Santos Silayo was quoted as saying at the time.
But during yesterday’s debate on the 2018/19 budget estimates for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in the National Assembly here, MPs from both the ruling party and opposition camp also appeared unhappy with what they said was the absence of a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA) report on the project so far.
According to Mtama legislator Nape Nnauye (CCM), the Environment Act of 2004 calls for the carrying out of a strategic EIA before implementing any such project involving land.
“As of now, the Tanzania Forest Service is already looking to cut down more than 3 million trees in the Selous... may I call on this parliament to advise the government to wait for the environmental impact assessment first,” said Nnauye, who is also chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Lands, Natural Resources and Tourism.
The MP added: “We are told that the size of the area set aside for the tree-chopping is about the same as Dar es Salaam or Unguja. This is a serious threat to the environment in a national park that brings respect to our nation.”
He called on the Attorney General (AG) to advise the government to stop the exercise and wait for the EIA, adding: “There is no way we can ignore the lives of millions of people, animals and the environment in five regions... this does not make sense.”
Kigoma Urban MP Zitto Kabwe of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party said while “no one is against the project”, the law has to be followed on the matter before implementing it.
“Imagine the whole of Dar es Salaam being empty of trees? The government should look at other options for upstream power generation, or generate power using gas,” Kabwe stated.
Meanwhile, contributing to the debate on the ministry’s budget estimates, Vunjo MP James Mbatia (NCCR-Mageuzi) asserted that the drop in tourism earnings is due to an excessive number of taxes in the sector.
“There are 57 levies in the tourism sector. It is surprising to see Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and other agencies contributing to the government fund while the same government collects corporate tax from these agencies,” Mbatia said.
He said there is a need to invest more heavily in the tourism sector because research has shown that it has the potential to make up to $16 billion annually.
Lucy Owenya (Special Seats - CHADEMA) proposed that the ministry should increase its budget allocation for marketing the country’s tourist destinations abroad.
According to Owenya, the allocation of 2.8bn/- outlined in the latest ministry budget estimates for destination marketing purposes is the smallest in the entire East African region, dwarfed by Uganda (8bn/-) and, perhaps most crucially, Kenya (56bn/-).
Muleba South MP Prof Anna Tibaijuka (CCM) called on the minister, Dr Hamis Kigwangalla, to brief the House on what programmes are in place to improve tourism in Kagera Region.