GULU. A day after government announced it had entered a draft consent agreement with some cultural leaders of Amuru to give away 10,000 hectares of land to Madhvani Sugar Works for the establishment of a sugar factory, a section of leaders in the district have criticised the development saying they were side-lined.
Parts of the land in Kololo, Lakang, Bana, Omee, Lujoro, Lwak Obito and Pailyech in Amuru Sub-county had in 2006 been earmarked by the government for Amuru Sugar Works Ltd but the move was resisted by landowners who instead dragged the government to Court. However on Monday, a section of cultural leaders from the “affected” areas reached an understanding with the government on giving the disputed land for establishment of a sugar factory.
The cultural leaders from Pamucha, Toro and Pagak among other terms of agreement they reached with government include creation of a legal entity to hold shares for the benefit of the Amuru locals.
The cultural leaders were allegedly led by Gulu University vice chancellor, Prof Jack Nyeko Pen-Mogi.
Many Acholi leaders believe there are other sinister reasons why the government and Madhvani are interested in the land. But Madhvani Group with backers of the project, especially government officials, argue that the land in Acholi, after years without being tilled, is fertile and suitable for farming.
This project best illustrates the rift over land in the Acholi sub-region.
The said agreement has, however, provoked anger from some leaders in the district majority of who described the arrangement as a “raw deal”.
Amuru District chairperson Michael Lakony in an interview with Daily Monitor yesterday claimed that the cultural leaders, who signed the draft agreement, were ‘used’ by the government in fulfilling their interest over the land.
“When an agreement is being reached over a disputed area, the bonafide landowners need to be part of the negotiations. In this case, the government chose to use only clan chiefs without involving local leaders and landowners,” Mr Lakony said.
Mr Lakony said the clan chiefs had no obligation to append signatures on the said draft agreement to give away people’s lands.
He also questioned why the deal over giveaway of the 10,000 hectares of land was hastily endorsed yet the dust has not yet settled over the disputed boundary between Amuru and Adjumani districts.
He said the deal will only be accepted if the Memorandum of Understanding is comprehensive enough to cater for the community welfare without cheating them.
The Kilak South Member of Parliament, Mr Gilbert Olanya, when contacted, said Madhvani Group of Companies has not learnt any lessons from past experiences when they attempted to put up projects without the involvement of landowners.
He said instead of the government using the clan chiefs, the locals should have been directly consulted by Madhvani Group of Companies officials for a fair deal.
“We have two big investors in the district, who are performing well; they didn’t use the government as Madhvani is forcing its way. They approached the landowners directly and entered an agreement over land. They are here…., it’s not like we don’t support development,” Mr Olanya said.
He also accused Prof Pen-Mogi for taking sides with the government on giving away land belonging to the vulnerable communities in Acholi sub-region.
When contacted on phone yesterday, however, Prof Pen-Mogi declined to comment on the matter.
In 2006, former MPs: Michael Ochula and David Penytoo filed a case in court challenging the decision by Amuru District land board to give Madhvani land for sugar factory construction in Amuru Sub-county.
Court presided over by Justice Masalu Musene, however, ruled that the land in question is a public land.
On January 6 2015, Mr Ochula and a section of locals from Amuru District met with President Museveni and reached for a deed settlement.
The agreement in parts reveals, ‘the parties support the establishment of the sugar project by M/S Amuru Sugar Works Ltd in which Madhvani Group is proposed to acquire 49 per cent shareholding (and) the appellants and the communities in the affected areas give 10,000 hectares of part of their land to Amuru Sugar Works Ltd.’
“We have two big investors in the district, who are performing well; they didn’t use the government as Madhvani is forcing its way. They approached the landowners directly and entered an agreement over land. They are here…., it’s not like we don’t support development,” Gilbert Olanya, Kilak South MP
“When an agreement is being reached over a disputed area, the bonafide landowners need to be part of the negotiations. In this case, the government chose to use only clan chiefs without involving local leaders and landowners,” Michael Lakony, Amuru District chairperson