Amuru Women petition District Chairman over illegal sale of Amuru Hot Springs

AMURU – Women from Amoyokuma, sub-ward, Amuru Town Council have petitioned Michael Lakony, the LCV Chairperson, Amuru district to intervene as they struggle to recover land they claim to be communally owned.

In April 2020, Samuel Odonga Otto, the former Aruu County Member of Parliament (MP) entered an agreement with the family of Charles Nyeko to buy 21 acres of land around the hot springs in Amoyokuma sub-ward, Amoyokuma ward, Amuru Town Council, in Amuru district at Shs 15 million with the aim of constructing a hotel.

On the 4th August 2021 about 150 people, all residents of Amoyokuma sub-ward invaded the area that had been developed as a tourist site, named “The Buffalo Camp” vandalizing a generator and solar panel stands, 500 concrete pillars used to erect the fence around the land. The locals also pulled down chain links as well as injuring a casual laborer.

Christine Acan, one of the petitioners says the land in question is a communally owned land of which Odonga Otto entered an agreement with only a family that did not have full rights of deciding on behalf of the community members. Acan says that as married women, their rights on the land were also violated.

Joska Acen, another aggrieved petitioner claims that ever since the site was ‘dubiously” acquired by the former legislator, they have experienced a swift change in rain pattern.

According to Acen, in the past one month, the whole area experienced heavy hail storms which destroyed their crops and killed animals among other impacts which are being attributed to the interference with the hot springs where elders perform cultural rites.

Florence Lamwaka, also a petitioner, says they want the district leadership to intervene in reclaiming the land which was illegally sold to the legislator, and the town council authorities investigated for accepting bribes leading to the sale of the land.

In a recent interview, Rwot Justine Ocitti Binyi, the Chief of Pagak Clan said the purported development being brought by Odonga Otto diminishes the core value of the cultural site which has provided rain that fed the community for decades.

Michael Lakony, the LCV Chairperson Amuru district says the district executive committee will have a meeting on Monday next week. He however, says they will also launch an investigation to ascertain whether the construction which was ongoing at the site was approved by both the town council and district planning units.

Lakony says that they also want to understand whether the construction conforms with the NEMA act which creates a buffer of at least 25 meters from the water source.

“According to Lakony, the district will not enter in the land dispute between Odonga Otto and the community members. Let the people who sold the land to Odonga Otto finish the dispute between the community and the legislator, for us as the district, we shall only investigate the legality of the development.”

Efforts to contact Samuel Odonga Otto, the accused, were futile. He however, in recent interviews accused Rwot Binyi of inciting violence and behind the 4th August vandalization at the tourists’ site.

Before the petition, there had been a number of attempts by the locals to prevent Odonga Otto from using the land.

In April 2020, community members led by clan leaders from Pagak and Lamogi summoned the legislator and his known friend, Gilbert Olanya, the Kilak South MP to understand the circumstances under which the land was acquired without their (community members and cultural leaders) consent.

Amuru hot springs are located West of Gulu City, approximately 53 km. It’s about 3 km off the Amuru-Gulu road slightly opposite Ker Kwaro Pagak.

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Government Allocates Shs.48 Billion to Creative and Music Industry

GULU – The government of Uganda has allocated Shs 48 billion to the creative and music industry for the establishment of regional arts’ theatres.

The Prime Minister Robinah Nabanja revealed that the fund is established to organise the creative industry and attract the youths to self-employment.

She revealed that Shs 11 billion has been channelled to the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC) from the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) for the implementation of the program.

“We will now give you what belongs to you and we expect that you will think positively to invest in the industry and get money,” Nabanja told the artistes over the weekend in Gulu at Watoto Church.

Operation Wealth Creation Chief Coordinator, General Salim Saleh noted that the artistes in the music industry have missed out on opportunities due to lack of structural organisation.

Saleh revealed that the government has realised the need to assemble the artistes into associations and cooperatives in order to receive support to boost their income during this period of the lockdown.

“We have learnt a lot from the artistes and we hope that they will now put their differences aside and turn their music to improve our economy,” Gen. Salim Saleh further explained.

Sam Okello, the Board Chairperson of Uganda National Cultural Centre revealed that the government has also reached agreement with the artistes on copyright protection.

Many of the artistes are being exploited and this has affected the growth of the music industry in the country. The government has now come up to prioritize the creative and arts industry, says Okello.

Though he did not disclose the timeframe of the establishment of the Regional Art Theatres, he noted the centres will be constructed in the North, Eastern, West Nile, Central and Western Uganda.

Ugandan Superstar and long-time musician, Daniel Kazibwe, known by his stage name Ragga D, commended the government for the support in the industry.

He also noted that the government has agreed to support artistes to produce songs that will sensitize and educate the masses on Covid19.

According to him, each of the songs that will support the fight against the Covid19 will tentatively be awarded Shs 350, 000 from the Ministry of Health.

Phina Mugerwa, the General Secretary Uganda Music Association noted that the industry has started registering all the performing artistes in the country and reorganising them into cooperatives.

Mugerwa revealed that about 4,000 musicians, producers and their promoters have been registered in the country and oriented on the organisation of the music industry for support from the government.

However, Ugandan Superstar and Hip-hop artiste Musa Ssali a.k.a Bebe Cool noted that the government has for years neglected more than 386,000 artistes in the music industry in its economic planning.

“Uganda is the most ethnically diverse country and this is the biggest opportunity for the country to export its cultures but there has been a lack of goodwill to take this advantage,” Bebe Cool added.

He revealed that the industry only contributed $ 281 million to the national economy due to poor technology for quality production.

“The creative industry is large and can generate more than $ 4,000 million per annum for the country if there is a will to support the sector and that is where we have gone wrong,” he added.

“The government has zoned Gulu City for induction, training and orientation of the artistes on the different opportunities to tap financial support from the government through associations and cooperatives,” says Phina.

The ongoing retreat which has lasted for more than two months in Gulu brought together artistes from different factions across the country that resolved to organise the music industry.

“We now have where we can begin from which has never been possible in the past years with lack of focus and infights in the industry. Let us not forget that we are prioritizing support to the young people,” Saleh told the artistes at Watoto Church.

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Serere district disburses Shs 90m to quack journalists.

SERERE – Serere district Members of Parliament have raised a red flag over the criteria the district officials used to disburse Shs 90m to quack journalists under the presidential initiative on wealth and job creation dubbed as Emyooga.

Statistics from the office of the District Commercial Officer, Simon Opolot, indicates that Serere district received Shs1,680,000,000 which was distributed to various SACCOs across the three counties of Kasilo, Serere and Pingire.

During the meeting between the Members of Parliament, district leaders and the Chairpersons of Emyooga SACCOs, to review and evaluate the progress of Emyooga program, it was found out that the district erroneously appropriated Shs 90m to quacks who disguised themselves as journalists.

Opolot said, of more than 180 registered SACCOs in the district, 3 were journalists’ SACCOs.

The SACCOs include; Pingire Journalists SACCO, Kasilo Journalists SACCO and Serere Journalists SACCO which received Shs 30m each and shared it amongst their respective associations established at parish level.

The revelation left the Members of Parliament wondering how Serere district was able to form journalists SACCO per county yet the number of practicing journalists in the district has been less than 10 journalists.

This report was presented to the Members of Parliament who included; the Minister of State for Fisheries, Hellen Adoa, who also doubles as Serere district Woman MP, Patrick Okabe (MP Serere County), Fred Opolot (Pingire County) and Kasilo Member of Parliament Elijah Okupa.

The Kasilo Member of Parliament, Elijah Okupa who was the team leader of the Members of Parliament cited a lot of irregularities in the report presented by the District Commercial Officer, Simon Opolot.

He said that the report didn’t reflect the amount of funds disbursed to the SACCOs and the date they received it.

In her submission, Hellen Adoa, the Minister of State for Fisheries said that she carried out an on-ground independent investigation prior to the meeting and found out that a number of members in the SACCOs and associations across the district are ghosts.

“During the visit, most associations were there but as it is, with many situations, there are bad apples. Some of the groups are not among the intended beneficiaries.

According to Adoa, Shs 30m which the district appropriated to Pingire County Journalists SACCO ended in the hands of masquerades totalling to Shs 90m.

Speaking in a tough tone, Adoa said, three of the SACCOs were composed of non-journalists disguising themselves as journalists while the purported performing artist’s SACCO was also made up of non-artists.

“I personally made calls to some of the members purported to be journalists in these respective SACCOs, unfortunately they denied being in any journalists SACCO,” she said.

The Member of Parliament for Serere County Patrick Okabe, blamed the district technocrats for disbursing funds to wrong beneficiaries without verifying.

“It’s sickening to learn that the district went ahead to disburse money to wrong members without verification. The Money has gone into the wrong hands. How can a small constituency of Pingire have 43 Journalists? It’s unbelievable but needs further probing,” Okabe questioned.

He suspected that some of the members in the journalists’ SACCOs disguising themselves as journalists are relatives of the sub-county or district technical staffs.

Okabe said that he has received a series of complaints from the public saying the fund intended to fight unemployment among the masses, is mismanaged to benefit a few who are not even in the targeted groups.

According to him, the saboteurs are doing so by forming and giving money to ghost groups and by asking for a 10% kickback, which he describes as not only being criminal but also undermining the president’s objective of introducing the initiative.

Meanwhile, the Pingire County Member of Parliament Fred Opolot attributed the mess to lack of proper sensitisation of the public about the program guidelines.

He said, had the Ministry of Finance drilled the beneficiaries on how they are supposed to benefit from the program, such shameful mistakes would not have happened.

Beneficiaries speak out

The Chairperson, Kasilo County Journalists SACCO, a correspondent of one of the radio stations in Soroti City based in Serere district, consented that many of his SACCO members are not journalists.

Out of seventeen registered members, only five are journalists while the rest are just citizen journalists, radio callers and agents.

The Chairperson, Serere County Journalists SACCO, Samson Adongu, faults the district technocrats and Minister of Finance for issuing contradictory guidelines about the program. Serere County Journalists SACCO, has three associations with less than 10 registered members.

“During the training conducted by the Ministry of Finance in February, 2020 at Soroti University, the Minister Haruna Kasolo described radio callers and agents as part of journalists, which every person who attended the training took as a gospel truth,” said Adongu.

Commercial Officer’s comments.

In his defense, the Serere District Commercial Officer, Simon Opolot said the blame should go to Microfinance Support Center for misleading the technocrats on who is a journalist and who is not.

He allayed fears that the district won’t recover that money from the masquerading journalists, saying that they will follow them to the dot till they repay back the money.

“The money is seed capital given in form of a revolving loan, so they must be informed that the money has to be paid within a period of four months as per the guidelines. Those who will not pay will be arrested,” warned Opolot.

The on-ground investigation taken by theCooperator reveals that Serere district alone has less than 20 professional journalists who mostly practice their journalism in Soroti City and other major towns in Uganda.

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