Compensation should go beyond the past and future

The Government and oil companies continue with land acquisition for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, there is need to address the concerns of project-affected persons and consider a holistic approach to compensation.

Last year, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) secretariat contracted a number of companies to conduct different studies in the affected districts of Hoima, Kikuube, Kakumiro,
Mubende, Gomba, Sembabule, Lwengo, Kyotera and Rakai.

One of the studies involving soil sampling to ascertain suitability for the EACOP project, affected several people in the aforementioned districts.

During the feasibility study exercise, people's crops were destroyed. At the beginning of the exercise, Project Affected Persons (PAPS), were promised that all crops destroyed during the exercise would be compensated.

However, the contractor has since changed position that seasonal crops destroyed would not be compensated under, the pretext that they were harvested and consumed. In reality, the crops were destroyed or cut down while in the garden and thus there was nothing to harvest.

In addition to the no compensation for the seasonal crops, PAPS have also expressed concern over the low or inadequate compensation rates that their properties are being subjected to.

This is not the first time PAPS have complained of low compensation rates. From previous land acquisition for the oil refinery in Kabaale, Buseruka sub-county in Hoima district was also punctuated with similar complaints.

In determining compensation rates, government officials have often argued compensation is not meant to make people richer but rather restore them to their former positions.

However, I find this argument flawed. Under the International Finance Corporation (FC) standards, involuntary resettlement occurs when affected persons or communities do not have the right to refuse land acquisition that results in  displacements, compensations and relocations.

Therefore, when displacement or destruction  of people's property cannot be avoided, Just like in the case of EACOP, government or companies should compensate the affected persons adequately and offer assistant that can improve their lives.

In land acquisitions and compensation process, companies or government should always strive to make the lives of affected persons better and not just restore them to their previous position.

The rationale is simple, there are many intangible things that cannot be compensated by use of money or resettlement/relocation. For instance, in Uganda, just like in many African countries, the value of land goes beyond a mere factor of production. It is inherited, which implies that there are people (forefathers),  who occupied it and there are those who will occupy and utilise it after the current generation - the future generation.

In African society, land means home, burial ground, culture, identity, language, etc. This means once displaced, project-affected persons risk losing their home, friends, culture and ultimately identity. Therefore, compensation  should take into consideration the lost culture and identity.

In aforementioned EACOP affected districts, a typical homestead has huts foir the sons, some of whom are not yet married. However, compensation or resettlement processes often consider the household head and, therefore, give the money of the son's huts to the parents and not the owners of the huts themselves.

Secondly, assuming there is an artiste in the community with a big community fan base, what would displacement/relocation mean to such a person? It means the artiste will lose his or her fan base, and by extension, business. How often does compensation cater for or address such losses?

Compensation should not be looked at as just paying of the current values or what can be identified at the moment, because it goes beyond to the past and future.

In the past, we have seen generic approach to livelihood. restoration like cows for every PAPS yet some have never reared cows, two years down the mad no one has seen a calf and cows have been sold off. Valuation should cover the other values attached to these crops. For instance, the value of a mango tree should not only be about the fruits it produces, but also the shade it provides, protection from wind, medicinal value, etc

As part of the best practices in land acquisition and resettlement processes, government and companies should consider a holistic approach to compensation, that enables projects affected persons to be better off after displacement.

The writer is a director of programmes at Global Rights Alert as Published by New Vision