Refinery affected persons hang in balance

As we journeyed deeper into Bukona Village in Buseruka Sub-county- Hoima District, the road grew narrower and steeper. Over grown shrubs made it impossible for the strong four wheel drive vehicles to proceed in the comfort of our air-conditioned mini bus. We step out into sweltering sun and walk the rest of the kilometres deeper into village to meet the community members of the 93 households who remain on the land awaiting resettlement and 670 people waiting for compensation. This land, covering 29.7 square kilometres and 13 affected villages with more than 7000 people, has been taken over by government for the construction of the oil refinery.

Along the narrow bitten path, abandoned dilapidated houses remain sitting amidst the wilderness.

Smoke springs out of one of the houses, indicating that there is life in this wilderness. The next house also stands alone some metres away.

As we proceed further, we meet a group of children collecting what is obviously contaminated water from a swamp. Along with them are animals drinking from the same water source.

“The borehole near my home broke down, this is the only water which we can use at home,” says one of the children.

 

Walking through the bushes to meet the communities waiting resettlement in Buseruka/GRA Photo

We finally reach the community who have gathered together to welcome visitors from Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Members of Parliament, Uganda Police and Global Rights Alert, the organisers of the trip. The communities want answers, why have they not been compensated or resettled? Why have they been left alone to live at the wild animals and robbers?

As Uganda approaches the production stage of her oil and gas, a number of plans are in place for the extraction, production and distribution. These include plans for the construction of the country’s first ever refinery (Buseruka Sub- County), the oil pipeline, oil waste disposal facility (Bugambe Sub- County), road construction works, airstrips, housing, factories.

Common to all the above initiatives has been the massive involuntary displacement of families to facilitate the development of the oil projects. These have involved numerous reports on human rights violations by implementers of these development projects.

This trip involved the interaction of various stakeholders and communities affected by the proposed construction of the refinery in Buseruka Sub County and communities in Bugambe sub-county which have been evicted to pave way for the construction of an oil waste treatment facility by McAlester Energy Resources LTD.

This trip thus facilitated the interface of all the above persons affected by these developments to learn from them the effects of the oil industry on the livelihoods of communities and further offer support for sustainable development where challenges have been faced.

Where challenges have been registered, the aforementioned participants took note of these, and work towards addressing them, with support and cooperation from their institutions like the ministry and parliament.

Gross abuse of human rights

Despite the clear provisions in the Constitution of Uganda, the Land Act, the Uganda National Land Policy and other numerous human rights treaties that Uganda is party to, respect for human rights continues to dwindle. The land evictions violate all these provisions yet government is entrusted with the mandate to protect its people. The constitution protects the right of every one to own property in Uganda either as an individual or in association with others.

The law prohibits illegal land eviction that is the forcible removal of a tenant, directly or indirectly, without prior court approval.

The community members said they lack legal representation and understanding of the processes to follow up on the grievances post acquisition of their land.

With the delays in resettling the people that opted for resettlement in Buseruka, people have grossly been aggrieved by the circumstances in which they live with no access to healthcare, education, food; with no alternative but to persevere with these hard conditions. This is contrary to chapter four of the constitution of the Republic of Uganda which among others guarantees the protection of these rights by the state.

Children miss school

Community members say that children cannot go to school anymore because the roads are closed and schools are closed.

 “Nyamusoga is far for our children. Schools like Nyahaira and Kyapaloni have closed because teachers are not there and roads are closed. The bushes you have passed through were once gardens but because of the waiting for compensation, we cannot dig. We have taken loans from money lenders to be able to buy food because we cannot grow food as by time they might tell us to leave,” she added.

Kakuru Owonda from Nyahaira says the refinery issues have become a puzzle.

“It is now three years and the refinery is like a disease to us. It is a good thing that you have come to hear our problems. We are left alone, thieves attack us. Our lives are in danger. This refinery is killing us. Please help us with this refinery issue. Why don’t you pay us or relocate us and we go away. Children have dropped out of school. In five years, you will have an uneducated population here in the oil region,” Owonda said.

 

Fenehans Kato is concerned that while the whole area has been earmarked for the refinery, people are offered different compensation for our land. Some are getting Shs 3.5 million and others are getting Shs 10 million. The refinery has categories of people. 50% of the people have not yet been paid. Those who want land don’t know where they are going.

Oscar Mabala says the community members have explored all avenues to get compensated promptly but in vain.

“We are grateful to GRA because if it was not for these NGOs, we would have died. One woman was going for burial when she was ambushed and attached by thieves. She was clobbered and injured. This has scared us. We cannot send our children to school. Why don’t they pay us and we leave? We don’t want to stop government programs but we should be compensated, we already signed their documents but no money has come. Those who have not signed and those who want land, when will they be compensated?,” Mabala says.

Sylvia Aganyira says that while they were happy for development, she has been left in the wilderness.

“I planted my crops and animals destroyed them. I have a nine year old child who goes to school in Nyamasonga and comes back home late because the school is far. I fear for my child’s safety. Money for the land was sent and we bought land but they gave me only half. What should I do?” Aganyira wonders.

Winfred Ngabiirwe the Executive Director of Global Rights Alert told the communities that it is their right to get enough prompt and fair compensation.

“If a child cannot go to school then where are people’s rights? Government should find an alternative for these people because they are suffering as you can see. People don’t have water. They don’t have food. Children are not going to school. Government should come out and tell us what is going on. This is your land and you are entitled to compensation. But the question is, when is the money coming?” Ms Ngabiirwe wondered.  

 

Speaking of behalf of Petroleum Exploration and Production Department of MEMD Francis Erongat said the RAP established 2700 property owners to be compensated.

In December 2013, government started paying and 1836 out of 2700 people have been paid representing 70.2% of the people to be paid.

For the 93 who opted for relocation, he said that government has acquired 533 acres of land in Kyakaboga. A committee representing the 93 households visited the land and when they liked it, and hence government went ahead and bought it.

Ministry of Lands, Planning and Urban Development is planning for this land. Once the plan is out, construction will follow.

“We know that some people who were paid left. As a ministry, we have not looked aside. In the next three weeks, the last batch who wants to be compensated will be paid. Those who have not signed for compensation we have prepared a supplementary evaluation report and submitted it to the chief government valuer. When the report us approved, then we will come back to this group,” Erongat said.   

He said PEPD is engaged with some 42 people in who are contesting the low compensation.

“There was an issue of different rates of land in different villages. You cannot compare Kyapalonyi with Katoke. We want to reach a consensus with the 42 project affected persons. Court case is ongoing and we are not ignoring these people. In the 11 categories are those for relocation and those who have not signed. By the time the case is decided,” he added.

To respond to Erongat, Helen Kahunde the Woman MP Kiryandongo said that PEPD should understand that land is not static, it changes every day. So the value 3 years ago is not the same value today because the money will not be enough to buy you land elsewhere. She also wants PEPD to help their families of people who died without receiving compensation to get letters of administration so that they can claim for the compensation

Peter Lokeris the State Minister for Energy ordered for immediate and constant deployment of security to ensure the security of the people. He said that government has prepared a schedule of payment which is awaiting approval by parliament.

Energy Minister Peter Lokeris addressing communities

“You have to know that money is not in a granary. This money is approved by parliament in bits every three months. Not even a minister takes a decision alone, we have to consult parliament. When we get money, we pay and we will pay until all those who signed get. In three weeks, people will be paid. Even salaries of MPs are paid every month not every year,” Lokeris told the communities.

He promised that their issues will be addressed on the floor of parliament answers from there taken back.