Fresh setbacks have hit Achwa hydropower project in Angagura Sub-county, Pader District, after landowners rejected the construction of the electricity evacuation lines through their land.
The land owners in Deng A, Deng B and Lacede villages in Burlobo Parish, in Angagura Sub-county, say they want compensation before Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL) erects electricity poles.
Mr Joseph Abonga, a land owner and also the Deng A Village chairman, on Thursday said they decided to mobilise against UEDCL since they are building the powerline without conducting assessments and evaluation over people’s land and other properties.
Mr Abonga wants UEDCL to pay him Shs30 million for the properties, land and trees to be destroyed, before he can allow them access to build the powerline through his land.
“It is not that we hate development but the manner government has been handling us land owners is very tricky. Unless they pay me Shs30m for my properties, I am ready to face them even in court,” Mr Abonga said.
He said much as poles have been erected in most sections of the line and stringing is ongoing, no clear evaluation or assessment has been done and the landowners are not sure if they will ever be compensated.
“We even requested for particular verification documents from them through which we can make claims but they have refused,” he added.
Mr Bosco Oryem, the vice chairman of Angagura A cell, said: “Unlike other places, we are afraid there will be a lot of undervaluing once compensation processes begin since they have already built the line.”
Mr Oryem claimed the UEDCL authorities were trying to use sub-county and district authorities to push through with the construction process instead of engaging the aggrieved landowners directly.
Last month, Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEGCL) officials told an assessment team from Envi-tech Consults Ltd that they were stuck with the power line construction works at Deng A village since Mr Abonga blocked them.
Mr Jonan Kiiza, the UEDCL senior public relations officer, confirmed to this newspaper in an interview that although the works were in advanced stages, the company had met a setback at Deng A Village where landowners have denied them access.
“Land ownership and compensation remain very delicate. This man could not allow us cut down his pine woodlot to erect the poles. The project could have been completed by end of August if it were not these few project affected persons (PAP’s) who stall the works,” he said.
Mr Kiiza also confirmed that another land owner at Laliya on the outskirts of Gulu Town had also blocked them from passing through his land.
Originally, the power generated was to be evacuated through a 132kV-high voltage transmission line that was to be built by Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) to a substation in Lira Town.
Until November last year, UETCL’s attempts to secure land to build the transmission line had not materialised as landowners feared that trees and properties destroyed during the construction of the corridor were not going to be compensated.
UEDCL then intervened to build an alternative 33kV double-circuit evacuation line.
It hired Segken -Power Africa to build the new line (Achwa-Angangura, Laliya to Layibi) at a cost of Shs6.6 billion.
During a community meeting with the PAPs held two weeks ago, Mr Godfrey Larago Oringa, the Pader District chairperson, urged UEDCL to fast track the compensation process and ensure that no land owner is left out to avoid future conflicts with the project.
“Make sure that the community is at peace with this development, this means you have to compensate them adequately. I also urge the people to take advantage of the power plant to increase their household income through investing in agro-processing machines.”
Mr Paul Mwesigwa, the UEDCL managing director, said: “The 66kV will be terminated at Layibi for distribution. This will stabilise electricity in the entire region, meaning we shall be able to attract investors in the region, because there is stable power and jobs will be created and the livelihoods of the people improved.”
“The establishment of this hydro- power dam here should save our people from the burden of travelling to Gulu or Kitgum towns in search of a simple maize or rice hurler because there is no electricity here. Once farmers can add value to their produce, it’s a big achievement,” he added.