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Compensation remains messy, ‘noisy’ NGOs risk closure

Tumwebaze

Mr. Tumwebaze (Left) claims he was beaten by security officials in Kabaale Parish and warned to stay away from the area.

The heated debate at last week’s public dialogue in Kampala to discuss the progress of compensation efforts in the proposed refinery area in Hoima District has shown that the process remains contentious, as government continues to disagree with disgruntled residents, backed by some civil society organisations.

Tempers flared at the meeting, convened by Global Rights Alert and African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) at the Golf Course Hotel, when residents of Kabaale Parish, the proposed refinery area, accused Energy Ministry officials and government of suppressing their rights.

An angry Geoffrey Kiwedde, Chairman of the Proposed Oil Refinery Residents Association, a local pressure group, told the meeting his main cause of discontent were the low and unfair compensation rates for their property.

“The 2011/2012 rates on the rate sheet are not yet approved, which means they are likely to use the 2010/2011 rates that are out-dated,” he said. “This is what I have always asked Bashir (Refinery Project Communications Officer) and Wamboka (from Strategic Friends International). Why don’t they use the new rates to pay us which have higher (sic) money?” he asked.

Kiwedde’s Deputy, Innocent Tumwebaze, also accused security officers deployed in the refinery area of beating him, forcing him to keep away from the compensation process.

“I can even show you the people who beat me, they are here,” he said, amidst chants from the audience to point them out. “All I was doing is to tell people not to sign the compensation forms if they are not happy with the rates. How does that disturb the process? Why should you force someone to take what they do not want? If they do not want the money, then do not force them, relocate them at least,” urged Tumwebaze.

Saboteurs

But Bashir Hangi, the Petroleum Exploration and Production Department (PEPD) refinery communications officer, told the meeting that Kiwedde and his team were merely sabotaging an otherwise transparent compensation process.

“This is a pressure group of about twenty people that was formed to sabotage the refinery area compensation process,” he shot back. “We have talked to these people, headed by Kiwedde, over and over again. They raise the same issues again and again. I do not know what they want,” he said.

However, former junior Lands Minister, Atwooki Kasirivu, cautioned government against ignoring the group’s complaints entirely.

“The problem is communication, especially from SFI (Strategic Friends International-the project consultant) and PEPD . They do not know their audiences. If people raise the same issues again and again, it means they have not been addressed. These twenty people can become many so do not underestimate their worth and their problems,” he warned.

In its report, SFI states that 7,118 people reside in the area, and 80% of the 1,221 households there have signed consent forms-the majority opting for cash compensation.

“Very few have opted for relocation and we have them on record, they signed,” Mr. Hangi confirmed. “The 20 % who have not yet signed are the ones who logged their complaints and we are going to address them. We are not forcing any one to sign without their consent,” he added.

Some residents have told Oil in Uganda that they chose to receive cash rather than be relocated because the government has remained tight-lipped on where they would be relocated to. But government insists they will be resettled somewhere in the Albertine Graben.

Government also maintains that the compensation rates are sufficient and based on the principle of “equity and equivalence” i.e. the affected persons will neither be enriched nor impoverished by the process.

Stubborn NGOs headed for tough times

Meanwhile, junior Finance Minister, Aston Kajara, added his voice onto the growing list of government officials who have threatened NGOs working in the Albertine Region with closure if they continue “sabotaging” the oil sector.

“We shall check in the law and get sanctions for those who disrespect government including deregistration,” he warned. “We do not want to invoke the law. We persuade them, if they think there are people that are affected in these communities, we shall not stop them from intervening but if they deliberately disrupt the compensation process, then there is a law. There is the NGO Board and Act in the Internal Affairs Ministry.”

Last month, Internal Affairs Minister and former Commander of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, accused some civil society organizations of sabotaging oil activities and vowed to crack the whip on those without licenses to operate in  oil producing areas.

Report by Flavia Nalubega

editor@oilinuganda.org