The Uganda Electricity Transmission Company (UETCL) is locked in a row with a Chinese company, Kehong Uganda Industrial Development Limited, over construction of three high voltage angular towers in Ndibilungi Village, Butambala Sub-county in Luweero District.
The angular towers are supposed to be erected at Lubenge, a swamp, which by law is gazetted land. But this was leased to the Chinese company by government for an industrial park project - the China-Uganda Agricultural Industrial Park.
The swampland at the border of Luweero and Nakasongola districts is part of the 2,500 acres that government leased to the Chinese company for 99 years for agricultural production in 2015.
Some residents had protested against the move, arguing that an industrial park in a wetland would set back efforts to combat climate change in the area, a known hotspot for drought and part of the cattle corridor prone to effects of climatic variability.
But President Museveni commissioned the park in April 2016, a veiled endorsement of the project.
UETCL, the parastatal in-charge of bulk electricity transmission lines, says it acquired the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) permits for erection of the electricity angular towers in the wetlands before work on the industrial park commenced.
In an email response to our inquiry, UETCL explained that they acquired permits after Nema inspected and mapped out the wetlands traversed by the transmission line evacuating power from Karuma hydropower dam.
Years later, the Chinese company has laid claim on the wetland on the basis of their 99-year leasehold. They are seeking compensation while on the other hand UETCL argues that a wetland is gazetted land.
UETCL principal projects officer Edward Muteesa said they have since “sought clarification from the Lands ministry and Nema” whose response is pending.
Construction of the electricity towers within the space of about three kilometres has also stalled. Likewise, fitting of the high voltage transmission wires - westwards towards the Kawanda sub-station/Kampala is on hold.
About 15km away in Wabikonkome Village, Kakooge Sub-county in Nakasongola District, the construction of similar angular towers has stalled for four years over a dispute over land measuring about 160 acres. The dispute pits one Robert Ssemanda, who claims was born and raised on the same land, and Edward Butera, who emerged later, claiming ownership.
Mr Ssemanda told Daily Monitor at his home in Wabikonkome that the land belonged to his late father Abiyansi Bukanga who first acquired a lease in 1979. Upon expiry, the Nakasongola District Land Board renewed it.
“From nowhere, Butera came and said the land was his. That is where the problems started,” he lamented.
Daily Monitor could not immediately locate Mr Butera, who both Mr Ssemanda and the village chairperson, Mr Edward Sserugo, said lives in Kampala and was not known in the area.
However, in 2016, Mr Ssemanda was arrested and arraigned in court on charges of “trespassing” and later sentenced to one year in prison. With a tinge of anguish, he says this was a troubling spell in his life as he could have spent more years behind bars had the State House Lands office not come to his rescue. He was released last year but almost after serving his one-year sentence.
“Luckily, I had already renewed the lease for our land; otherwise, I would have lost it already,” Mr Ssemanda said.
Construction of electricity towers on his land is further complicated by the fact that he also subdivided and sold part of it to other parties, and each wants to be compensated.
“UETCL cannot disburse funds under such circumstances,” said Mr Muteesa.
Yet still, compensation of project affected persons (PAPs) on the Karuma interconnection project remains unresolved. Individuals are seeking compensation of astronomical amounts in billions of shillings that could handicap the Energy ministry’s purse.
In a landmark case, a family in Oyam District successfully sued government and the Karuma dam contractor, Sino Hydro Corporation Ltd, for unlawfully crushing its rock into aggregate and using it in construction.
Mr Paul Etot and eight others versus Attorney General and Sino Hydro Corporation Ltd, in the suit lodged at the High Court’s Land Division in 2015, wanted court to compel government and the Chinese contractor, to pay for aggregate derived from the family rock.
According to Article 144 of the Constitution, minerals are vested in the hands of government.
But the exception in Article 244, Section (5) of the Constitution states that, “for the purposes of this article, ‘mineral’ does not include clay, murram, sand or any stone commonly used for building or similar purposes.”
The Etot family have since then been given an award of Shs10b, a ruling, which the government has appealed.
However, a confidential brief by the Energy ministry says the ruling could set a bad precedent.
“There is a need for government to consider undertaking processes to set aside this interpretation. Otherwise government infrastructure projects will become expensive as compensation has to be done not only for land but for rocks, murram and sand found on the land,” the brief reads in part.
Upon this ground, another group of claimants whose land aggregate and sand were used in construction of the 183 megawatts Isimba hydropower dam in Kayunga District have thrown a spanner in the works seeking Shs203 billion in compensation.
They are Mr Richard Oyana, Mr Isaac Dramuke, Mr Disson Nsubuga, Mr John Wafula, Mr Owori Okuni, Mr Adriano Okuni and Ms Celina Etapu. Others are Mr Ali Kagoda, Ms Rose Achieng, Mr Berenado Ssajjabi, Mr Bonifansio Obbo and Mr John Apogo represented by Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA). Documents seen by this newspaper show that the contractor for Isimba, China International Water and Electric Corporation (CWE) paid these claimants for crops and land only.
However, the claimants after being paid sought further compensation for rocks and sand, which were used in the construction of the dam. This second claim was largely influenced by the verdict of Paul Peter Etot and others Vs Attorney General and Sino Hydro Corporation, which ruled that rocks and sand are not listed as minerals and deserve to be paid for.
Mr Tom Musisi and Mr Charles Magumba are also claiming to be the legitimate owners of this land in Kayunga, which could result into a protracted litigation.
Mr James Banabe, the director of Energy Resources in the Energy ministry, admitted that there are complexities over compensation. He hopes that the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters will offer guidance on the compensation.
Yet the commission has already run into hurdles. The High Court last year quashed the order by the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters to halt payment of billions of Shillings in compensation to businessmen by the Uganda Land Commission (ULC).
Yet fears remain abound over paying such huge sums of money.
The Auditor General, Mr John Muwanga, in his report has warned: “The eventual determination of the cases and/or payment could significantly constrain the financial resources of the ministry of Energy.”
Bill for Isimba & Karuma
Documents seen by Daily Monitor indicate that the former Electoral Commission chairperson, Dr Badru Kiggundu, who serves as chairperson of the project steering committee of Karuma/Isimba dams, has also raised a red flag of the Shs203b Isimba compensation bill to the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led land probe.
It was reported last year that the total compensation figures for both Karuma and Isimba dam projects stood at a staggering Shs600b while the Auditor General, John Muwanga, in his latest report submitted to parliament in January, put the figure at Shs390b.
Both Karuma and Isimba dams cost Shs6.7 trillion from China’s Export-Import (EXIM).
UETCL managing director William Kiryahika told Daily Monitor they are only responsible for compensation of project-affected persons on Karuma. The compensation for Isimba dam is under the Energy ministry docket.
“The process of compensation is very elaborate in our laws and based on our land tenure system. You know well like we see on every project, land owners have a right to refuse. We have a mechanism to address challenges and grievances but that sometimes takes long,” he said.
Of the 4,135 project affected persons on Karuma, Mr Kiryahika said compensation of at least 80 per cent has been effected and the remaining 20 per cent is mainly as a result of the disputes on the land and documentation irregularities in land ownership.
That notwithstanding, he said the plan is to have the process completed by December when the Karuma hydropower dam is expected to be commissioned.
According to UETCL, the Karuma interconnection project involves two phases. Phase one involves construction of a 400kilovolt power evacuation line running 248km in Kiryandongo, Masindi, Nakasongola, Luweero and Wakiso districts, construction of a 400kilovolt line running 55km from Karuma to Olwiyo in Nwoya District and construction of a 132kilovolt line traversing 75km from Karuma to Lira.
Phase two includes expansion of the Kawanda sub-station to accommodate the additional 400kilovolt power from Karuma: construction of the switchyard at Karuma to facilitate power evacuation and construction of a new 400/220/33kilovolt substation at Olwiyo.
But much of this depends on how fast the compensation is settled.
As Uganda attempts to establish itself as a regional hydropower hub, there are fears that inflated compensation rates could delay this lofty dream.
Land acquisition challenge
Issues. Compensation of project affected persons (PAPs) on the Karuma interconnection project remains unresolved. Individuals are seeking compensation of astronomical amounts in billions of shillings that could handicap the Energy ministry’s purse. a family in Oyam District successfully sued government and the Karuma dam contractor, Sino Hydro Corporation Ltd, for unlawfully crushing its rock into aggregate and using it in construction.