The government has applied to the court seeking an order to evict landowners in Buliisa and Hoima who have refused compensation to enable the development of the Tilenga Oil project.
The last move by the Attorney General followed a long-standing disagreement with 42 households in Buliisa who have rejected compensation offered by the government. The refusal by the households has stalled some of the developments under the project being developed by TotalEnergies.
The Ministry of Energy represented by the Attorney General filed suit on December 4, 2023, seeking to deposit over 945 million Shillings in court to enable it to take over close to 60 acres of land located in Hoima and Buliisa districts. Some of those to be removed from the land are located in areas where the government plans to put up the refinery.
The suit was filed as per Article 262 of the 1995 constitution as amended. Court documents indicate that the government wants to be granted an eviction order against 35 landowners in Kirama Village, Kigwera Sub County in Buliisa district. It is also seeking to be discharged of any liabilities resulting from any claim following after the money is deposited to court and after an eviction order is granted.
The households in the dispute rejected the compensation because it was low and unfair. Among those targeted for eviction is Fred Balikenda from Kirama Village, Kigwera Sub-county in Buliisa District who is demanding 200 million Shillings for his house and pigs.
Balikenda is one of the nine Project Affected Persons (PAPs) under the second Resettlement Action Plan (RAP2). Balikenda has refused to be physically relocated before Total compensates him for the damages and loss in income suffered owing to Total fencing off and isolating the family before compensating the household.
It is said that TotalEnergies compensated for his 6 acres but has refused to vacate the land. The court documents indicate that the refusal by Balikenda others to vacate has affected the Tilenga project.
Jealousy Mugisa Mulimba, one of the respondents said the suit was filed against then at the Hoima High Court on December 4, 2023 and a hearing date was set on December 8, 2023. He said some of the 42 respondents were informed of the case on Thursday and that most of the respondents were not unaware that the government had sued them.
Aminah Acola, with the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), wondered why the court is in a hurry to dispose of the suit “Every Ugandan has a right to be given adequate time and opportunity to defend themselves. We expect the court to be alive to the fact that most of the households in the case are illiterate, financially constrained, and do not understand court processes. They therefore should have been given ample time within which to engage a lawyer and put in a response to the case,” she said
Meanwhile, Dickens Kamugisha, the CEO of AFIEGO in a statement said “The judiciary is on trial” AFIEGO supported the oil refinery-affected people to file a case against the government of Uganda over low, inadequate, and unfair compensation in March 2014. Nearly ten years later, a hearing of the case is yet to be concluded. Yet the case filed by the MEMD against 42 poor households is set to be quickly heard. Rushing the case is perhaps aimed at frustrating efforts by the affected people to get a lawyer, and to file the necessary documents before court. This will see the affected persons losing the case.”
Kamugisha added no law provides that project-affected persons’ compensation can be deposited in court. Despite this, in 2020, the government sued nine Tilenga project-affected households who refused the low compensation that was being given under Resettlement Action Plan 1.
In 2021, the judiciary illegally allowed the government to deposit the households’ compensation in court. This set a bad precedent that should never be repeated. It is also sad that the government has continued to use and misuse courts to destroy citizens’ right to own property and/or get adequate compensation.”
Frank Muramuzi, the Executive Director of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) says, “This kind of quick fixing of cases without adequate notice to households has no place in the world. Further, any kind of investments that do not prioritize the rights of project-affected persons are useless and should be fought at all costs.”
Abdul Musinguzi of Tasha Africa Research Institute says, “The Ministry of Energy’s actions are tainted with ill intentions and are aimed at denying the project-affected persons justice. Laymen should not be ambushed and rushed to courts without being given adequate time to prepare. The judiciary should avoid being used.