Unsurprisingly, yet emphatically, the launch of the Citizens Manifesto on Petroleum and Mining provided a platform for stakeholders to amplify voices of concern and frustration from resources-rich communities.
From the communities in the Albertine region that will domicile billion dollar oil development projects to the mineral communities of Kassanda, Bukuya, Busia, Karamoja, Buhweju, Ntungamo and many more, locals have voiced what constitutes human rights infringements including torture, land grabbing, gender based violence, lack of access to basic public services, evictions, poor or no compensation, among many other infringements.
It is three years since the high handed evictions of artisanal and small scale gold miners from the mines in Mubende; the memories are still fresh, yet despite repeated pleas from the miners and civil society organisations government has never addressed their complaints. The losses; livelihoods, property, expensive equipment, gold and money, have to date been reported to a tune of 150billion.
Lately the Minerals Police Protection Unit has gained notoriety for harassment of miners, extortion, torture and corruption at the top echelon. The country has witnessed shocking scenes of confrontation by the Unit officers with government officials right in front of television cameras, as the unit has brazenly exhibited impunity and arrogance to people who are supposed to hold them accountable.
"A while back, the Government decided to clean the mining sector. They deployed a unit that has now militarized the sector and taken the power away from the Ministry. We recently documented ASM human rights violations by this unit.
"Licensed miners can longer do business without the interference of the Minerals Police that has high jacked the sector," Don Binyina, executive director Africa Center for Energy and Mineral Policy, made the grim remarks at the launch of the Citizens Manifesto on Petroleum and Mining.
The Albertine Region has since the discovery of commercial oil reserves been a cradle of activity that has seen an influx of people seeking new business opportunities which has in itself led to a rush for land panic purchases and in most cases even land grabbing.
The situation has been exacerbated as government has embarked on securing huge tracts of land to accommodate oil developments infrastructure and often, there have been cases of evictions, unfair or delayed compensation and unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of the voiceless to seek compensation for land that is not theirs.
Sophie Kyagulanyi, a human rights lawyer speaking at the launch, noted: "Compensation is increasingly delaying. People don't get their compensation on time and this gives room for speculation. There is the issue of compensation rates. It should be transparent. People should know when and how much they are receiving."
The management of oil revenues expected from the development of the oil sector that will unlock an estimated $20 billion worth of investments, remains a source of concern for stakeholders who are rallying a call for their fair, just, inclusive and sustainable management.
In his address Binyina painted a grimmer picture of poor management of oil revenues so far, citing that over the years the Petroleum Fund has dwindled from Shs300 billion to a paltry Shs87 billion
"The Public Finance Management Act is devoid of a fiscal rule that will stem politicians' appetite from spending the money. The law provides that a certain percentage is supposed to go to the Investment Reserve which is not happening.
"The issue of utilizing the funds is worrying. The law says the funds are not for recurrent expenditure but infrastructure development. There must be equity where every citizen enjoys the money. Whereas the Bombadier planes are being procured and roads are constructed, schools and other infrastructure should be built for those who do not drive cars on the roads," said Sam Magara, moderating a panel discussion.
At the heart of all these submissions was the collated appeal for local participation and placing citizens at the heart of extractives management.
"The extractives sector, if well managed, presents good opportunities to Ugandans, but also requires a lot of evidence-based decisions. Civil Society presents an opportunity for research that can be used as a basis to make decisions," remarked Francis Odokorach, Country Director of Oxfam in Uganda.
Yet, in the same spirit, Xavier Ejoyi, country director Action Aid International Uganda, sounded out government, noting that "it is clear that when mineral resources aren't well managed, they have the potential to lead a government being questioned."
"To the political parties, you have a chance to use the voices of the citizens contained in this manifesto to reorganize your manifestos ad think about our mineral sector ahead of 2021," Ejoyi told political party representatives that later on made commitments to address the citizens' concerns.
Speaking for the miners, John Bosco Bukya, the chairperson of the Uganda Artisanal and Small Scale Miners Association appealed to government for a conducive environment for ASM to thrive as in neighbouring Tanzania that has a progressive ASM sector whose contribution to the economy is valued.
The Citizens Manifesto is a compilation of citizens' voices resulting from extensive consultations in the petroleum and mineral bearing areas of Uganda through collaborative efforts of Publish What You Pay Uganda (PWYP-U), Action Aid International Uganda, Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP), Centre for Social and Environmental Rights (CSER), Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU) and Oxfam in Uganda.