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Landowners in Buliisa And Hoima Lose Battle In Tilenga Oil land Dispute :: Uganda Radionetwork

Landowners in Buliisa And Hoima Lose Battle In Tilenga Oil land Dispute

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The ruling was on miscellaneous cause 24 of 2023 filed by the Attorney General versus 42 respondents. The suit was filed as per Article 26(2) of the constitution and under the Land Acquisition Act and Civil Procedure Act among others.
08 Dec 2023 21:05
The land owners meet after the court ruled that their compensation money shoud be deposited in Court

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 Landowners to be displaced by the oil and gas projects in Hoima and Buliisa Districts suffered a major setback on Friday after a judge allowed the government to deposit their compensation money to the Court. Justice Byaruhanga JesseRugyema ruled that those with grievances should appeal. 

The ruling was on miscellaneous cause 24 of 2023 filed by the Attorney General versus 42 respondents. The suit was filed as per Article 26(2) of the constitution and under the Land Acquisition Act and Civil Procedure Act among others.

The 42 landowners had refused compensation rates offered by the government for them to relocate and allow the development of oil infrastructure under the Tilenga project by TotalEnergies. 

Hoima High Court udge, Byaruhanga JesseRugyema ruled in favor of the Ministry of Energy represented by the Attorney General that over 950 million shillings should be deposited at the court.   

The ruling means that the government can now evict the landowners, and allow the projects to go on. The landowners refused the compensation rates approved by the government Chief Valuer saying they were low and unfair.  The land in dispute is close to 60 acres in Hoima and Buliisa districts.   

Lawyers representing the landowners or project-affected persons had tried to ask the Judge to postpone the ruling saying some of the sued persons were not in the court. The judge briefly adjourned to allow the lawyers from the Attorney General’s chambers and the respondents' lawyers to consult.   

The two sides did not agree when they returned to court. Ten of the respondents were represented by a lawyer. Mugisa Jealousy Mulimba, one of the project-affected persons told URN that they will consult their lawyers over the possibility of appealing against the ruling. 

He said the judge hurriedly considered the matter without giving the respondents to chance to be represented by lawyers. 

The legal battle stemmed from a suit filed by the Attorney General on 4th December against the 42 Projects Affected Persons from several villages in Buliisa and Hoima Districts. 

The Ministry of Energy Permanent Secretary, Irene Bateebe swore an affidavit which was relied on to hear the application. It among other issues said the government through the Government Chief Valuer carried out a valuation of the projected affected land and that the valuation for each Resettlement Action Plan (RAPS) was approved by the Government Chief Valuer to facilitate Compensation for the affected persons.

That following disclosure of compensation entitlements, Mugisa Jealousy Mulimba, and 15 others rejected compensation amounts as assed by the project approved by the Government Chief Valuer, and some of the respondents had ownership and disputes over part of the land required for project activities which the government had no mandate to decide or resolve or decide who the rightful owner of the land is.

She further stated that since March 2021, the government has been unable to pay compensation to some of the respondents because they cannot be traced despite several attempts to locate them including community drives, consultation with local leaders, known neighbors, relatives, and radio announcements.   Bateebe particularly singled out Fred Balikenda from Kirama Village, Kigwera Sub-county whom she said despite receiving compensation and having several engagements with the government refused to vacate the land.  

On 18th September, the government Chief Valuer who had been appointed as the Assessment Officer for the Tilenga project published a notice of intention by the government to take possession of the land in dispute. The respondents were given 30 days within which to submit their claims. 

The respondents were reportedly served with notices inviting them to meetings but most did not turn to the meetings.

She said the refusal by some of the respondents to accept compensation rates, and the failure by some to resolve ownership wrangles greatly constrained the implementation of the Tilenga Project to the detriment of the country’s oil and gas sector. She further stated that in the interest of Justice, the ministry should be granted leave to deposit the respondents' compensation money in court and an eviction order against Fred Balikenda to enable the implementation of the Tilenga project. 

The Court allowed Balikenda should be evicted so that he could move to the house constructed for him by TotalEnergies. Balikenda is still defiant even after the court ruling. “I was not satisfied with the judgment. This is what I can tell you. I need AFIEGO to help me in this matter. All the NGOs. I need them to come and help me. Because with me I cannot afford the legal costs” he said

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Seremos Kamuturaki another respondent told URN that he was equally not happy with the ruling. “Many of us have not agreed with the decision that the money should be deposited to the court accounts. However the judge ruled that the money should be put on the account. So we have remained not satisfied. So we feel that we should  have another step”    

AFIEGO Chief Executive Officer Dickens Kamugisha said what the government has done is contrary to Article 26 of the 1995 constitution.  

Under Article 26 (2) (b) of the Constitution, compulsory acquisition of property can only be made under a law that makes provision for prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation prior to the taking of possession.     He said they plan to appeal against the ruling though he expressed doubt whether the court will move as fast as it did while disposing of the application by the attorney general. 

The court has previously ruled in the Uganda National Roads Authority Vs. Irumba Asumani & Peter Magelah, Supreme Court Constitutional Appeal No.2 of 2014. The Supreme Court confirmed the sanctity of property rights under the Constitution.    

Article 26 of the Constitution on freedom from deprivation of property provides for prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation prior to the State’s compulsory acquisition of any property. 

The Court ruled that the Land Acquisition Act (Cap 226) is unconstitutional in so far as it provided for the compulsory acquisition of property before the payment of compensation to the owner. 

UNRA appealed to the Supreme Court and sought to argue, among others, that Article 26 was not a non-derogable right and that in certain circumstances, the State would be entitled to compulsorily acquire property before payment of compensation for instance in situations of natural disasters, emergencies or in the interest of public good. 

The Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional Court decision that the Land Acquisition Act was inconsistent with Article 26 of the Constitution and therefore unconstitutional.  

“What they are doing is total impunity and abuse of the court process. They have used the court to chase Balikenda from his land contrary to the constitution,” said Kamugisha.    

Kamugisha told URN in an interview that the Court did not grant the applicants 14 days to enable them to file their defense. He said they had information that TotalEnergies had threatened to take action against the government for failure to ensure vacant possession of the land to enable it to proceed with work.  

The ruling could be used to ensure that absentee landlords whom the EACOP project has failed to trace could equally have their money deposited with the court   for work on crude oil pipeline to go on .   

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