The Observer (Kampala)

6 November 2012

Uganda: Many Could Miss Out On Oil Refinery Compensation

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More than half of the residents that live around the area where government intends to build an oil refinery might miss out on compensation, or walk away with peanuts, because they do not have the relevant documentary evidence of ownership.

Findings by Strategic Friends International (SFI), the firm government contracted to carry out a resettlement action plan for the people living around the refinery area, notes that only 41.5% of the affected households had land purchase agreements, 2.5% had tenancy agreements and only 1.4% of the landowners had land titles.

The findings also indicate that more than 70 per cent of the people to be evicted to pave way for the construction of an oil refinery, are Alur - people widely seen as 'foreigners' in the district.

The Banyoro, who are thought to be the original tenants of land in the district, constitute only 7%. On top of that there are also Congolese and Rwandan nationals in the area.

The findings present one questions therefore: Are non Ugandans also eligible for compensation? And is the value of titled land likely to be the same as untitled customary owned land?

Shem Byakagaba, a lawyer and Chief Executive Officer of Lantern Consult International, a Ugandan consultancy firm that has been tracking Uganda's oil story, notes that the government is likely to face a lot of challenges when it comes to compensation.

Byakagaba says, according to the law, Congolese and Rwandans are not eligible for compensation. "I doubt whether they are eligible for compensation. They are not landowners," he explains. He adds that they can be compensated if they lawfully acquired the land.

"These foreign nationals are likely to have come as foreigners and just acquired idle land. What I know is the procedure for a foreigner acquiring land here is very stringent."

Government remains tight-lipped on the issue of compensating foreigners. Byakagaba says affected people without any documentation for their land and those without land titles are likely to get meagre compensation.

"If you don't have a title, you are only compensated for the development on land. That is why the land issue in Bunyoro requires affirmative action," he argues.

Majority of the people without any documentation acquired land customarily.

"Those with land titles are likely to be compensated for the development on the land as well as the value of the land. So, they are likely to get much more money," Byakagaba said.

According to the 2011/2012 Sector Performance report, after the completion of the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) study, the minister for Energy would commence compensation and resettlement process of the affected people.

Jackson Wabyona, chairperson of Bunyoro Local Oil and Gas Advocacy group, say, government should break the silence and clarify on these salient issues. "The RAP study draft report is silent on many issues," he notes.

The RAP study was meant to establish the parameters and entitlements for Project Affected People (PAP), institutional frameworks, mechanisms for consultation and grievance resolution, time schedules and a budget as well as identify and assess the impacts of land acquisition that may remove or alter the land.

The study was also meant to measure the current property and socio-economic status of the Project-Affected Persons (PAPs), to assess compensation and mitigation measures required to prepare cost estimates for resettlement and compensation.

The assessment is not comprehensive on compensation. "Compensation will be paid when all transactions are agreed upon. This will be in all cases prior to the actual commencement of the works," notes a presentation by SFI.

"The date of commencement of the notice to vacate will be the date of signature of the compensation certificate, regardless of the actual date of signature of the transfer deed," the presentation adds.

SFI notes that, a Notice to Vacate may be issued for a period of no less than three months, or of six months or more, in which case, a disturbance allowance of 30% or 15% respectively is due to the affected landowner.

"Compensation will be paid when all transactions are agreed upon. This will be, in all cases, prior to the actual commencement of the works. The date of commencement of the notice to vacate will be the date of signature of the compensation certificate, regardless of the actual date of signature of the transfer deed," the report notes.

Many people, though, feel the findings of the report fall short of basic expectations. Justus Balyesiima, one of the affected people and chairman of Nyamasoga LC I, notes: "What I want, and what people want is how much we are going to be compensated for our land." he says.

"The report does not state how much government is going to pay us [refinery affected persons] per acre of land. We expected the RAP study to come up with proposed compensation rates," he said.

But Bashir Hangi, the Petroleum Exloration and Production Department (PEPD) communications officer in charge of the refinery, says the study was not about proposing compensation rates but assessing the social-economic status of the refinery proposed area. "This study was about socio-economic status of the refinery affected people and not compensation," he says.

Hangi notes that the RAP report is still in draft form and the public should wait for the final report. He explains that the government has been displaying the findings in the affected areas for communities to respond to irregularities.

The government needs a total of 29 square kilometres to provide space for the development of the refinery and its attendant infrastructure such as a 3km runaway airport, waste management facilities, petrochemical industries, refinery staff accommodation and other social services.

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