Kabaale can easily come out as a lonely hard-to-reach area. A big part shrub, human settlements are randomly clustered at a reasonable distance from each other and the 13 villages are accessible by skinny foot paths that fall off the only main laterite road and snake through sun burnt hedge plants to different homesteads.
According to the Ministry of Energy Permanent Secretary, Mr Kabagambe-Kaliisa, the year 2015 has been earmarked for the start of the refinery construction and 2017 is projected to see the first phase (30,000bpd) of the refinery project to be done.
At full implementation of the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP), the area will have not only Uganda’s first oil refinery but also an aerodrome, waste management facilities, associated industries such as petrochemical industries and staff quarters. It is supposed to dictate the new face of Hoima, the oil city.
There are two categories of beneficiaries; those who chose monetary compensation and those who chose to be relocated. However, everything is not fine in the two groups. The government has started paying, directly from Bank of Uganda, those who chose the option of compensation and on receipt, the recipient is given a three months’ notice to vacate the land.
Contested valuations and refusal to sign
However, a visit to various affected homesteads revealed that while the clock is ticking on the RAP (one year to go), there are countless squabbles over compensation being given for land and farm produce and those who chose to be relocated claim they are yet to know their destination.
Mr Jovan Owonda, 46, has 12 children and lives on one-and-half acres although he claims to have more land elsewhere. His two wives live in two separate huts adjacent to each other, each with her portion of children.
When we visited his home, at around midday, he was sitting under a jackfruit tree shade, shirtless and biting off a piece of freshly peeled cassava. His two wives were each at their huts going on with the chores— one sitting on her hut’s verandah peeling cassava and the other fighting soot off what looked like her cooking pot.
Mr Owonda is one of the many who have refused to put pen to paper. He rejected Shs20 million which was being given for the one-and-half acre piece of land, all his property inclusive. He contests the valuation rates. “I am not pleased with the way my property was valued,” he said. “I should at least get Shs100 million. “I know the project will change the image of this area but they should give us money which will enable my family get a better life,” he said.
Apart from the jackfruit trees and two huts, most of his land has pineapples and coffee trees. He says the government wants to give him Shs399 per pineapple plant yet the market value is Shs2000, and his coffee trees, he says, are being valued at Shs800 each.
The time it takes to walk from his home to the main road and back, is not enough for a meal. That, he believes, should make his land and crops fetch more money, just like plots in the nearby Kitegwa village. An acre of land in villages outside the refinery area goes for Shs15 million.
The project coordinator, Mr Bashir Hangi, says compensation rates for crops and semi-permanent structures are set by the district while the price for land is determined by the prevailing market value.
“These rates were determined by the professional valuers and approved by the Chief Government Valuer in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development. Our officers on ground have no mandate to change compensation rates other than bringing such matters to the attention of the relevant officials which they have been doing.
“Those who accepted government awards have started receiving payment while those who have not yet accepted have not been forced. Accepting compensation is voluntary and no one is being forced or intimidated,” he said in an email.
Mr Richard Olebi, 27, says although he chose relocation, they are yet to know where they will be moved. “People who chose payments are being paid in halves and some are not but for us, we are not even sure of where we will be taken,” Mr Olebi said. “They just told us that they will give us a house of three bedrooms. They (government) promised to return and take us to inspect the land but they have never returned,” he said.
Further still, many in Mr Olebi’s situation are worried of hunger, claiming the government officials stopped them from planting food crops because they were to be moved anytime.
“We never planted this season because we thought we would be out of here by now,” said Mr Ochuwun Francis, 32. “There is going to be a food crisis if the government does not pay off people and move others out of here very soon.”
However, Mr Kosea Wamboka, the director of Strategic Friends International (SFI), the company contracted to carry out the resettlement, says no one has been stopped from farming.
“People have not been stopped from farming. After payment, people are given vacation notices and ample time to leave and the fact that not everybody has been paid, we have no moral authority and legal mandate to stop them from farming especially those who have not been paid,” he said in an email.
From the government side, Mr Hangi said it is regrettable that some have not taken heed and have abandoned cultivation. “People have been consistently told not to abandon cultivation. Meetings have been held in villages where ministers and regional Members of Parliament have urged people to continue cultivation,” he said. He further says affected persons to be relocated have been met and they have been informed that government plans to resettle them within Buseruka.
‘Bungled up payments’
Mr Otekakwo Sadam was one of the RAP village committee members, who worked with government surveyors, valuers and officials from SFI. He says the project has been bungled up and many people have not received their compensation on their accounts in full.
“I had some piece of land elsewhere but all payments have been made in halves of what I signed, money which I cannot easily plan for,” he said. “For the little money that I signed, how do I plan for it if it is being given to me in quarters?”
Mr Otekakwo is entitled to Shs3.9 million while his wife was entitled for Shs4 million which she is yet to receive. He is among the many who have vowed never to leave unless they get paid in full.
Mr Chunya Moses, 28, says his account reflects all the Shs67 million he received in return for his seven acres of land plus property but the bank only gave him Shs7 million and has to date refused to release the balance.
“I wanted to buy a plot of land which is at Shs12 million,” he said. “But the bank only gave me Shs7 million and they have refused to pay me the rest. How can I move? Some of us will never leave this place unless we get our full payment.”
Mr Hangi, however, says they are not aware of people receiving money less than what was assessed.
Hoima District chairperson George Bagonza said he has received complaints of people not being given their full payments by the banks. However, he said, it is not because banks want to take people’s money.
“Some people have never held bank accounts, we have heard stories of people walking into banks and asking to withdraw more than Shs100 million at once and head back to Kabaale on a boda boda,” he said. “I do not think banks can be comfortable to release all that money in a sack and give it to someone to walk back home.”
Mr Wamboka promised to follow up on the issue to ensure that people get their money in full. “This can be verified since we get payment schedules from the Bank of Uganda as well and in case somebody is paid less, he/she will certainly get the money in full,
“Only that there could be bank charges which I believe are very minimal and this should be explained to the people by respective banks,” he said.
The palm wine drunkards
Around the villages the sight of men, both young and old, sipping on Eagle Lager bottles whilst playing loud lingala music and playing cards got more common.
Could they be spending away their compensations?
“No no no,” said Mr Chunya, whom we met at a make shift bar in Nyahaira with four other friends around a table with more than 10 bottles. “We are not drinking our money here. What we do is that whoever gets paid comes and buys his friends around and that is done only once.”
Another quipped: “If I drink my money yet I know I must leave this place where will I go, on a tree? You think we do not know what we want?”
Under livelihood restoration interventions, training sensitisation meetings have been held in the villages by government together with CSOs such as Hoima Caritas Development Organisation to educate people on how best to use their money and to encourage them to plan for the money as a family as opposed to household heads dictating how such money should be utilized. Many beneficiaries too have bought boda bodas.
Unpopular government, doubted contractor and invading pastoralists
The deputy Premier Bunyoro Kingdom, Mr Blasio Mugasa, describes Mr Hangi as a stumbling block to the possible development of the kingdom’s subjects from the refinery compensations. In the villages, Mr Hangi is a Karamarachi, an Alur word for one who is bad-mannered.
Both the kingdom officials and the subject say Hangi has been behind the meager compensations the people are getting because he gags them from talking and complaining. “There is a man called Hangi from government he is really a stumbling block to us and that is why our people are complaining,” Mr Mugasa said.
Apart from Robert Kasande, Mr Hangi is a lone project coordinator from the government. Although he is originally supposed to do public relations for the project, sources within petroleum exploration and production department say the entire project was left on “his shoulders”.
One of Mr Hangi’s colleagues in the department said he shouldn’t be blamed because he is “sometimes overwhelmed.” In responding to the accusations, Mr Hangi, who, prior to joining Petroleum Exploration Department, worked as a journalist, said he is “well trained and qualified in handling not only public relations but also social welfare and community development issues.”
Over time, the government has faced a series of bashing from legislators and civil society, especially over understaffing. MPs have severally accused government of treating the process as a public relations issue and not welfare.
Legislators also questioned the process through which SFI was contracted for the job and poked holes in its professional competencies, saying it is a company hastily started from within the ministry of Energy to target the compensation deal.
They also claim it was given the contractor to be an implementer and its own evaluator and monitor. However, SFI’s top director Wamboka says it was formed in 2007. “A search for the company on the website revealed that this is its first assignment of this kind and magnitude.
Prior to winning the contract, the website shows the company much involved in; training Arua and Bukwo local governments in development planning, developing an infrastructure master plan for Moroto Regional Referral Hospital, among others.
The Bunyoro deputy prime minister says there is still a chance to ensure that people live a better life after compensation “but this can happen if people are well compensated and given enough investment awareness and information. Otherwise, the government will be overwhelmed by squatters who will refuse to leave the land.”
About refinery project
About programme. It is the biggest compensation and relocation programme in Uganda’s post-colonial history. Started late May 2012, the project covers 29.34 KM2 and is affecting 2,473 land owners, 1,221 households, 3,514 women and 1,344 children under five years, according to a Resettlement Action Plan report seen by this newspaper.
Works timeline. According to the Ministry of Energy Permanent Secretary, Mr Kabagambe-Kaliisa, the year 2015 has been earmarked for the start of the refinery construction and 2017 is projected to see the first phase (30,000bpd) of the refinery project to be done. Mr Kabagambe-Kaliisa says Uganda’s decision to construct a refinery is in line with object four of the national oil and gas policy 2008 that seeks to promote the valuable promotion of the country’s oil and gas resources.
Coverage. The refinery is located in Kabaale Parish, Buseruka Sub-county in Hoima District. will cover nine villages of Nyahaira, Kyapoloni, Nyamasoga, Kabaale 2, Kabakete, Kiteegwa, Katooke, Kigaaga and Nyansenene.
Current status. East Africa has only one refinery producing 70,000 barrels per day at half the capacity. However, Uganda’s daily demand is 30,000 barrels per day and that of the region is 200,000bpd with a growth rate of 7 per cent.