Involve project affected persons in development of compensation rates

By Kennedy Mugume

Early this year, the media was awash with stories of how Buliisa residents had rejected land and other property compensation rates on ground that the rates were low. The Joint Venture partners – Total E&P Uganda BV, Tullow Uganda Operations Pty Ltd and CNOOC Uganda Limited are in the process of acquiring 786-acre piece of land in Ngwedo Sub County, Buliisa district to construct a Central Processing Facility (CPF) and attendant infrastructures in preparation for oil production.

A Central Processing Facility (CPF) acts as “a first refinery”. From the ground, oil usually comes out mixed with debris, water and other impurities. The CPF therefore stabilizes the crude – separates the impurities to remain with tradeable crude oil for either export or refining. In one of the media stories, Project Affected Persons (PAPs) indicated how they do not oppose land acquisition for oil-related infrastructure projects, however, their main concern is fair, adequate and timely compensation for their property. For instance, according to the news story, residents claim they were being offered as little as Shs 250,000 compensation for a semi-permanent house, Shs 150 per cassava plant yet they consider the market rate for such a plant to be Shs 4,000/=. Low compensation rates for land and other property (development on land) such as crops, trees, houses and graves among others has a been thorny issue ever since government and oil companies started land acquisition for oil and gas related infrastructure projects.

This created conflicts between Project Affected Persons (PAPs) on one hand and private investor and government on the other. For instance, some persons affected by the land acquisition for the oil refinery have sued government challenging illegalities and irregularities that marred the land acquisition process. At the centre of the suit is the low property compensation rates for their land, crops, trees, houses etc.

Under the Land Act as amended, it is the mandate of the District Land Board (DLB) to develop draft property compensation rates for the district on an annual basis. The rates are then approved by the Chief Government Valuer (CGV). However, the process of developing compensation rates is not participatory. The compensation committee that develops the rates is made composed of technocrats from different departments. In most cases, the Committee sits and determines rates without involving or consulting project affected persons – people directly affected by the rates.

In addition to low compensation rates, there have been incidents where key items that communities perceive to be very important miss on compensation lists. For instance, during the land acquisition process for CPF, Aloevera that community attaches a lot of value for curing malaria was left out. The compensation committee, views it as a weed, but to the host communities, it is medicinal and as such valued highly. In cattle corridors of Gomba, Sembabule and Lwengo – Orukono (as it is known in Luganda) is a valuable crop that separates mainly cattle farms and as such prevents conflicts. However, on draft compensation rates for these districts, it is missing on the list of properties to be compensated.

From my discussions with the people of Buliisa District, cassava is more valued and appreciated than matooke. As such, communities expect a high compensation rate attached to cassava than matooke. Such discrepancies continue to create a sense of resentment and conflict among project affected persons. That is why district Land Boards need to make deliberate efforts to involve and widely consult communities in the process of developing compensation rates. This approach, will help districts understand which crops communities value most and attach corresponding values. That way, communities will own the rates and ultimately minimize on compensation rated conflicts that have dodged the land acquisition for oil projects.

The Author is a Program Officer at Global Rights Alert (GRA).