Hoima city council has ordered American Tower Corporation (ATC) to restore the degraded part at Hoima Public Primary School where it had started constructing a base station commonly known as a mast.
This comes after the city council stopped the construction that had reached surface level of the mast foundation where concrete pillars with metals had been already affixed on Tuesday when The Albertine Journal visited the school.
A makeshift iron sheet fence which substituted a wall is visible behind Perssey road that neighbours a school with an estimated enrolment of close to 2,000 learners.
The construction of the mast attracted mixed opinions, but Silvia Nalumaga, the City Deputy Mayor, during a council meeting at Resort Hotel in Hoima City on November 11, said after doing thorough investigation, they learnt that it is hazardous for the masts to be near young children.
“ATC did not follow the right procedures before starting the construction and had not been permitted by the city’s physical planning department. The health, environment and other assessment reports had not been approved,” she said.
Nalumaga was quick to add that neither the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) had authorized them.
Council also selected a four-man committee to investigate the other masts around the city to ascertain whether they were erected through the right channels.
Asinansi Nyakato, the Hoima City Woman Member of Parliament, had in her October 12 letter to NEMA expressed concern about the construction of the said mast arguing that if established, it would cause noise pollution resulting from the generator and this would affect learning of the children.
Nayakato said there is growing fear that the children and the surrounding community exposed to the electromagnetic radiation from the antennae of the mast will suffer from health complications.
The City female legislator asked NEMA to halt the construction over breach of environmental and social guidelines and revoke the license if any.
According to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) which regulates the telecommunication sector, so far, there is no evidence which indicates that base stations are dangerous to the neighbouring community.
Efforts to get a comment from NEMA on whether they approved the development or halted it were futile. ATC’s contacts could not be traced for a comment. The Albertine Journal could not independently verify the telecom firm behind the establishment of the said mast.
Matia Mubangizi, a consultant for NEMA on the project, recently, told a local journalist that the school management was consulted and it gave a nod for the project.
“Its fears about the construction and the environmental social impact assessment report were shared before they approved the construction.”
“They are talking about cancers but Japan, a country with the highest life expectancy rates in the world, has over a million masts,” Mubangizi said.
He said placement of the mast is not like building a house, adding that the coordinates and signals dictates their locations.
He said they had hoped to put it at Boma playground, a stone throw distance from the school but the place did not have the signal.
Mubangizi said besides, the mast is located on a small piece of land, far away from the school which sits on 6 acres.
UCC says a base station provides network coverage to people using mobile devices in its specific surrounding area.
As the number of mobile devices in a community grows, more base stations are needed. This explains the more base stations in crowded places, according to UCC.
“We are going to continue with sensitising the people so that they get the information that they don’t have. We cannot start having councilors deciding where to put a borehole although they have a stake. This will be frustrating development,” Mubangizi elucidated.
Nassa Bbiira Kiwanuka, a development analyst said the current incident must trigger a look at orderliness, poor physical and the economic planning of the city.
“There is limited stakeholder participation in all affairs of the city. For that matter, different projects are emerging that are good in terms of socio-economic transformation and if not well managed can cause a lot of damage to the residents,” Dema Gabriel, the Central Ward Councilor in East Division Council, who vowed not to allow the mast construction said.
If it succeeds, the mast will be the second to be constructed in a school, the first being at privately owned Mandela Secondary in Kiryatete West, which is located two kilometres away.