17 August 2014

Uganda: Peasants Bask in Glory of Refinery Funds

Gilbert Manyireki has few regrets in life. As one of the people who have been compensated to pave way for the construction of the refinery, he has seen his life transformed as a result of the money he received from government.

"I have bought a car, land, and built my houses," he said proudly. "And I take my children to urban schools," he added, declining to reveal the figure he is entitled to.

Manyireki is one of the 7,118 persons who have been affected by the oil refinery construction plan in Kabaale parish, Buseruka sub-county, Hoima district. He is also among the people that have received compensation, an exercise that has attracted mixed feelings. For now, change is visible in the new areas where the projected affected persons have resettled.

Around Nzorobi, a place that has attracted many people from Kabaale, buildings under construction are visible in bushy areas. Manyireki, who bought two plots of land there, is usually seen supervising builders undertaking work at his 20-room commercial building.

"This is the first house I decided to build for commercial reasons. I want to set up a shop and a depot [for beverages]. Or I can make it a lodge because I anticipate an increase in the number of visitors this side due to the oil industry," Manyireki said.

"Now I am preparing for this agriculture season such that I can start cultivating like other people. Honestly, I can say that I have benefited from the oil refinery compensation," said Manyireki, a father of eight.

While the likes of Manyireki might have used their compensation funds wisely, there are growing worries that a number of people are squandering theirs. Fred Kasangaki, the chairman of Buseruka sub-county, noted that many people had not bought enough land to replace what they had lost.

"You find that one had eight acres, and now has only four. They used the other money to buy motorcycles, which is not a wise investment. I think more sensitization is needed to ensure that the remaining people use their money wisely," he said.

Justus Kyalisiima, the chairman of Nyamasoga village, an area that was also affected by the refinery project, said some people abused their compensation packages while others have done well.

"You cannot say that everybody used it properly. Some started living a luxurious life, spending sleepless nights in bars and buying cars before buying land," he said.

There is the bigger problem of those who have not received any compensation at all.

Global Rights Alert, a civil society organization, has just released a brief, where it noted its disappointment in government failing to avail funds to compensate all the people displaced at the refinery area.

"The 2014/2015 budget does not prioritise compensation and resettlement of remaining people the refinery will affect," noted the report, which was released this week.

"If indeed the government is serious about starting construction of the refinery next year, this should have been priority. Development of the oil and gas sector ought to be of benefit to Ugandans, none more so than those who are directly suffering the inconvenience of displacement for the refinery," noted the brief.

The government says more than half the people at the refinery site have been compensated. However, disagreements over the rates, and the lack of money, continue to stand in the way of completing the compensation period. The government was supposed to have chosen the lead investor for the refinery in June. It is not clear when the name would be revealed.


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