Oil – the Deprived Cry Out to Religious Leaders

The delay of reparations to the men and women displaced by the planned oil refinery project in the western district of Hoima has left many destitute and lonely.

“.. ..It is the first time in my life to wake up every morning and find myself with no neighbour, I feel scared and isolated. I often ask myself, whether there is something wrong I did to the government,” says 72-year-old Philemon Kato.

A resident of Kabaale parish in Hoima district, Kato is one of thousands affected and displaced by the oil refinery project. Kato and others complain that government has delayed to compensate them for their land on which a planned oil refinery would be built.

Compensation of people in the refinery area started in December last year, but only half of the affected people have received money. At least everyone who has been paid has vacated the land, leaving the unpaid lonely and isolated.

Still waiting:

Kato asked for cash compensation and is still waiting. His three sons, who also requested for cash compensation, were paid and have since vacated the area and handed the land to the ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, leaving their father behind. He wonders why government paid almost everyone in the village and didn’t pay him.

“Did I do any wrong to vote the NRM government to power?” he wonders.

His village used to have about 40 households but now there are two.

“You can imagine living in a whole village alone at this age,” he says.

Richard Oryem, a resident of Kyapaloni village, faces a similar challenge. Although he opted for relocation and compensation, he is yet to be paid.

“They told us, for you [who opted for relocation], don’t worry you will be here until you are relocated. But today, people were compensated and left. So, we have been left alone in the village. Access roads are now bushy but how am I going to maintain the community access roads? I am too isolated,” he says.

“My children have since dropped out of school because they can’t walk through the bushes to school alone. The school is going to be relocated soon. I ask government to relocate us as soon as possible.”

Kato and Oryem’s testimonies were heard by the council of presidents of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), which spent three days in Hoima and Buliisa districts meeting with oil-affected communities. The trip was organized by IRCU and Global Rights Alert, an extractives non-profit organisation.

The religious leaders included Mufti Shaban Mubajje, Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, Orthodox Archbishop Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga, and Pastor Dr John Kakembo, the archbishop of Seventh-day Aentist Uganda Union and chairperson of IRCU. On June 17, the religious leaders met affected people at Kolping hotel in Hoima, before visiting host communities in Ngwedo village, Buliisa district the following day. They then toured oil wells.

Locals accused government of neglecting them and failing to address anomalies and irregularities in the resettlement action plan. Gilbert Lubanga said many of his properties were missing on the evaluation list. When he complained to Strategic Friends International [SFI, consultant company handing the resettlement action plan], their response was far from friendly.

“They keep saying that my issue is very small, but it has taken more than two years, to rectify that ‘small’ issue,” he said.

The people’s complaints include meagre compensation rates, missing property on the evaluation list, delayed compensation and relocation, among others. Locals later presented a list of their problems to religious leaders and asked them to use their power and influence to lobby and speak for the affected people.

Mubajje, Lwanga respond:

When contacted, Kosea Wambaka, head of party and programmes at SFI, acknowledged there were some people whose property had not yet been verified, and pledged to conduct another disclosure exercise for such people soon. After listening to the affected communities, Joshua Kitakule, the secretary general of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda, outlined the objectives of the trip.

“We have learnt from Nigeria and other African countries, that whenever oil is discovered, it has often been a curse. We are not here for solutions, we are here to get information to see how to use our structures and leadership as the Inter Religious Council of Uganda to ensure every Ugandan benefits from oil,” he said.

Responding to the cries of the affected communities, the Mufti of Uganda Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubajje said: “Your complaints have a signal. If oil is the beginning of your cries, then I begin to worry. There are rights we recently refused [understood to mean gay rights], but [yours] are the real rights we should fight for,” he said.

He said if people are not paid on time, every day that passes, money loses value. He prayed that oil would become a blessing and not to lead to conflicts.

“We shouldn’t leave a group of people dissatisfied. As religious leaders, we shall aise where necessary. Where our aice fails, we shall resort to prayer,” Mubajje added.

For his part, Dr John Kakembo pledged to seek answers from the authorities concerned. Weighing in, Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga urged government to look into the issues affecting the oil-host communities.

“Your MPs should also add your voice to this,” he said in Buliisa and urged people not to forget God when they receive money.

The religious leaders also visited the king of Bunyoro, Solomon Gafabusa Iguru, who slammed government for failing to address people’s concerns.

“My people are subjected to manipulations there is need for a policy to protect people,” he said.

After the field trip, the religious leaders issued a joint statement demanding that the development of the oil infrastructure must respect the rights of local people.

The agenda of local communities is being driven largely by civil society organizations operating in the areas and not by the communities themselves, and recommended that communities should be empowered to take charge of their own agenda.

“Communities are largely supportive of the project and have high hopes that their living conditions will improve as a result of this newfound resource in their area.

However, complaints such as meagre and delayed compensations should be addressed,” the statement read.

Winfred Ngabiirwe, the executive director, Global Rights Alert, asked government to ensure that respect for human rights is at the centre of every development.

Godfrey Nyakahuma, the Hoima resident district commissioner (RDC) said people who are yet to be paid would be paid soon.

In the new budget, government earmarked Shs 35 billion to complete the compensation process.

“You know very well that government has a special interest in the oil, which has to be guarded at whatever level. Therefore, we can’t as government, entertain anything that can frustrate this big project,” he said.

Source : The Observer

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