Allaying Fears and ensuring informed participation of EACOP Project Affected Persons: Disclosure and continued dialogue required to support Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) implementation
In November, the GRA team was on the ground to support multi-stakeholder dialogue with Project Affected Persons (PAPs) in Hoima and Kikuube districts in the Bunyoro sub-region. The dialogue sought to address community concerns and tensions arising from delays in payment of cash compensation more precisely and in implementing the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) Project more broadly.
The Government of Uganda approved the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) in April 2021. Shortly after, Total Energies embarked on the RAP disclosure process, which marked the first significant step by the company to undertake land acquisition and resettlement activities responsibly. The RAP outlines the actions and commitments for compensation, resettlement, land access, and community development for the EACOP project. The RAP disclosure process entails disseminating information and obtaining stakeholder feedback on resettlement packages and assistance to the people affected by an EACOP project through land acquisition, relocation, or loss of income- including how compensation amounts on assets and resettlement projects are calculated.
However, by November 2021, there was only marginal progress in the payment of compensation to PAPs. But there are genuine reasons for the delay- the COVID-19 pandemic remains an ongoing challenge. It has upended the timely implementation of the RAP, with the Omicron variant in the latter part of 2021 dashing hopes that vaccines will turn the tide against the global pandemic. This is undoubtedly the cause for divergence from the commitments and timelines set out in the RAP. However, the delay raises questions of implementation and the need to obtain feedback from PAPs and stakeholders on issues, alternatives, and decisions as early as possible to allow timely adjustment of implementation arrangements. The dialogue was attended by 31 participants comprising Project Affected Persons (PAPs) and the Hoima District Local Government, Petroleum Authority Uganda (PAU), CNOOC Uganda Ltd, Civil Society Organizations, the Media, the EACOP Team, and Grievance Handling committees.
Aside from delays in payment of cash compensation, the increased anxiety was linked to gaps in communications concerning whether compensation rates would be adjusted given that the process has taken an extended period. In addition, some other PAPs are in limbo, facing an uncertain future but unable to farm or generate an income due to land-use restrictions. As one PAP pointed out, “We are not against the government project, but the government should also consider our concerns during the compensation process because the valuation process was done two years back almost three years and we were stopped from utilizing the project land, however, up to now we are not yet paid,” Retired Anglican Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali. In response, Mr. Fred Bazarabusa, the project Land Acquisition Officer said that TotalEnergies would give a 15% annual project uplift due to delayed compensation of the affected persons. He further revealed, “We are also reviewing the EACOP route, registering complaints of all project affected persons so that they are solved before compensation.”
The responsiveness and positive outcome from the dialogue highlights the benefits of working directly with stakeholders throughout the process to ensure that issues and concerns are consistently understood and considered and attests to the value of bringing stakeholders around the table to improve understanding of the issues, alternatives, and find common ground. It also shows that an information vacuum is likely to stir more fears and can render PAPs vulnerable to misinformation- rumors and speculation replace silence from the project. And thus, there is equally a need to ensure PAPs are informed and receive continuous communication and updates about RAP implementation arrangements. Constant engagement is also required to communicate opportunities, manage expectations, potentially prevent misunderstanding and allay any fears.
In this context, deploying communications and feedback mechanisms to keep PAPs and other stakeholders adequately informed in a timely manner has become more vital than ever. This is why GRA is intensifying its work with all stakeholders as we forge ahead with the important agenda to ensure that resettlement activities are implemented with appropriate disclosure of information, consultation, and the informed participation of Project Affected Persons.