Civil suits stall Uganda refinery, highway plans

Saturday April 5 2014

By GAAKI KIGAMBO Special Correspondent

Uganda faces two civil suits over land it intends to construct an oil refinery on and build a new highway to ease the challenges faced in oil production.

Analysts have condemned the government’s approach as unfair and unconstitutional, saying it is a source of growing anxiety in the affected communities. They said the disputes may derail the development of the country’s most promising sector.

The suits follow a special report released by the country’s Human Rights Commission late last month that faults the government for not doing more to safeguard human rights in its acquisition of land for oil exploration and production.

The Commission said there is an absence of mechanisms to address issues of the 7,118 people that the refinery is set to displace.

“Denying people the right to participate in decisions, policies, processes and practices in the oil and gas industry would have far-reaching ramifications for achieving the development goals in Uganda as it would negatively affect human rights,” the report reads in part.

On March 28, 10 residents representing 86 households in Kabaale Parish, the chosen site for the oil refinery, in Buseruka sub-county, Hoima District, filed a civil suit in the High Court in Kampala after trying in vain to petition the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, parliament and other government offices.

They said the Ministry has stopped them from using and developing their land since June 2012 without compensation. They added that the way the Ministry assessed their land was inadequate and to date those who opted to be relocated have not been resettled.

On the same day, in the Land Division, Otto Michael Gulamali, the deputy registrar of the High Court, issued an interim order restraining Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), or anyone acting on their behalf, from any further construction work on the Hoima-Kaiso-Tonya road until July, when the main application involving complaints of undervaluation, and therefore lower compensation, of some land appropriated for the road, is cleared.  

According to the plaintiffs, UNRA, through its valuation contractor Mapcon Consults, undervalued some of their property, ignored and/or refused to value others.

The agency further ignored their dissatisfaction or alternate valuations carried out by a private company they had hired. Instead, it went ahead to commission the Turkish Koln Construction to begin road works on the land and destroy their property.

However, the agency said the government already instructed for a review of compensations, which was done and top-ups made where they discovered that undervaluation had occurred, or in some cases the property had not been valued.

Road works blocked

“Nearly 75 per cent of the road is complete. We had hoped to finish by August but the order blocks all works until July. We can’t accept that and we are going to challenge it,” said Dan Alinange, the agency’s spokesperson.

Constitutionally, any dispute resolution in respect to land, and especially the kind of disagreement that rises out of how much the government needs to pay in compensation, is vested with District Land Tribunals.

In most of the Albertine districts, however, these District Land Tribunals do not exist or lie dormant because they lack money to operate.

According to the refinery project development schedule, the 29 square-kilometre Kabaale Parish should be available by June in time for the announcement of the successful lead investor/operator for the development, implementation and operation of the 60,000 barrels per day oil refinery and related downstream infrastructure.