A section of residents of Biharwe in Mbarara North City Division on Monday staged a demonstration over delayed compensation for their property, mainly land, by Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd (UETCL) that is planning to construct a 400 KV line through the area.
The residents convened at Katojo Primary School and inspected property to be affected by the construction of the power line project.
The residents claim they were in 2015 stopped from carrying out any activity on the land where the line is supposed to pass, and they signed consent agreements with hope that they would be compensated soon.
However, six years down the road, they have not been compensated and have not used the said land.
The residents from the 10 villages of Kamatarisi, Kyarukondo, Kanyara, Rwebishekye, Katojo, Rwagaju, Nyakinengo, Mailo, Kyaruyenje and Kasharara want government to honour its promise and compensate them or allow them to use their land.
"I bought land here in 2010 and in 2014, started construction of a home but shortly later, I was told the land was wanted for a government project and I would be compensated. I stopped building. I expected to be in my own home by now but I am still renting with my family. They either compensate us or allow us to use our land," Mr Kennedy Kawalya, a resident of Katojo, said.
Mr Godfrey Beinomigisha, a resident of Kyarukondo, said he has five plots of land that were affected but he cannot develop or mortgage any of them.
"They have just brought a university in my neighbourhood (Kampala Metropolitan University, Mbarara campus), I had an opportunity to construct hostels here but I can't. Even getting a loan using these plots is not possible because we signed consent agreements witnessed by local leaders, they even took photocopies of our land titles," Mr Beinomugisha explained.
Ms Conceptah Natukunda, the chairperson of the affected residents, said there are about 600 people waiting for compensation and that they have tried all means, including reaching out to the Ministry of Energy, but they have not been helped.
"Imagine someone who was constructing a home but is now renting, some abandoned their plantations and gardens, their only source of livelihood, some had loans and this land was the only source of income to service the loans but the government is not seeing this. We are giving them an ultimatum of one month to either pay us or allow us back onto our property," Ms Natukunda said.
UETCL spokesperson Pamela Nalwanga Byoruganda said residents need not to worry because they are in the last stage of the compensation process.
"We are now at the disclosure stage; our teams are already on ground visiting homes to disclose the captured properties and the amount they are supposed to get. If there are no disagreements or disputes, then they sign compensation files, we get other details like bank accounts and they are paid," she said.
She added: "But in case of disagreements, these have to be settled first."
Ms Byoruganda added that the disclosure exercise would have started in January but since it was elections period, they didn't want the project to be mixed up with politics.
She said the delay in compensation was because they had first made a report as demanded by funders on safeguards like environment and livelihood support but the first report had environment-related issues because some of the land was in wetlands. They had to review it before it was finally accepted.
She added that their team might not have reached Biharwe where these demonstrators were because they were covering a big stretch-from Masaka to Mbarara.
The 400KV transmission line is expected to ensure reliable power supply in the region and the country at large.