Refinery Construction: Attend To Affected Communities fast

 

By Winfred Ngabiirwe

The Executive Director of Global Rights Alert addresses community members in Buseruka/GRA Photo

This week, the government announced the Russian Company RT Global Resources, as the bid winner to build Uganda’s $3b Oil Refinery in Kabaale, Buseruka Sub County, Hoima district. This is good news the oil sector with high expectations from the business community and general public. This news interests local communities in the refinery area who are experiencing first hand effects of developments and particularly the refinery construction. They are definitely excited about the jobs that the construction of the refinery will bring.

Government has demarcated 29 kilometres of land for the refinery and related infrastructure. This land was home to over 7118 people constituting 1221 households who have to vacate after they are compensated or relocated to new areas. 

Today I will address myself to the people who opted for land for land compensation and the progress government has made towards fulfilling its commitment it make in 2012 to resettle these people.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD), 93 out of a total of 1221 households opted for land for land compensation. Government committed to identify alternate land on a case by case basis in the neighbourhood of the refinery project preferred to relocate.

People awaiting relocation would have land, a house constructed for them, benefit from community health awareness campaigns, expansion of existing schools, recreation spaces, water sources, healthcare, electricity among others.

Two and half years since MEMD did the initial assessment, there is little evidence of progress in respect to resettling people who opted for land for land compensation. This runs counter to the commitments and timelines the government set for itself. It infringes the rights of those directly affected, jeopardizes their lives, sows and perpetuates disaffection and anxiety among them. It affects the social license that is necessary for projects like the oil refinery to succeed and sets a bad precedent against the government, which still needs to acquire a lot more land for other related projects like the oil pipeline. As such, it would not be an exaggeration to postulate future acquisitions might be met with hostility especially as the government continues to moot the idea of changing the present land holding system in order to have more access and control of land, which the constitution of Uganda vests with citizens.

Government has reportedly procured a chunk of land measuring 530 acres in Kyakaboga village, about 25Km from where the refinery will be constructed. Apart from conducting site visits with the leadership of the PAPs in question, its reluctance to display proof of purchase is a source of an unhealthy speculation that the said land has not actually been paid for yet.  The lack of clarity over the status of the land feeds a longstanding anxiety over when exactly the relocation will take place. This uncertainty prolongs and worsens the PAPs present dire living conditions.

Because majority of people opted for cash compensation and left, what were once vibrant communities appear today as deserted as barren lands would be. The footpaths are engulfed by overgrown bushes; security is poor as PAPs are attached by robbers, snakes, wild animals. They lack clean water because when their boreholes broke down. The same obtains for education and health facilities as well as shortage of food that is unprecedented in the areas and borders on famine. 

One of the PAPs Kakuru Owonda from Nyahaira paints a clear picture of the plight of these people.

“I do not understand these refinery issues. It is now three years and the refinery is like a disease to us. We are left alone, thieves attack us. Our lives are in danger. This refinery is killing us. Please help us with this refinery issue. Why don’t you pay us or relocate us and we go away. Children have dropped out of school. In five years, you will have an uneducated population here in the oil region”

But you know, these neglected people are only a statistic! The Minister or another official from MEMD will inform parliament that over 75% of the affected people have been compensated, and everyone will see that is extremely good progress. It is not. The remaining 25% are human beings and they, just like everyone else are entitled to live normal lives.

Now with the awarding of the bid, the situation has turned from bad to worse for the affected persons. They are beginning to panic. The government must therefore enhance security of person and property of PAPs, Immediately provide social services like water, education, healthcare pending relocation/resettlement and Provide timely and clear information regarding latest developments especially in regard to possible times for relocation. As progress is being made at national level, so should it be at local level. That is what inclusive development is about.