HOIMA – Government has okayed the oil companies to use the land purportedly owned by absentee landlords in the oil-rich Bunyoro sub region.
Through the Petroleum Authority of Uganda [PAU], government has recommended that the oil companies can rely on the Land Acquisition Act of 1965 to take over vacant land in certain areas of Bunyoro so as to beat the deadlines for the implementation of different oil projects.
The move comes at the time when oil companies are facing the challenge of absentee landlords who are supposed to be compensated but can not be traced, which has caused delays in some instances.
The Head of Corporate Affairs at CNOOC Uganda, one of the companies in the development activities in the region Zac Lubega told theCooperator that the decision to invoke the law and take over the land before compensating the landowners and users was taken to address the issue of slowness in the implementation oil projects.
“This has become one of the major challenges in the project life. Absentee land owners cannot be traced, but the project needs to progress, what do we do?” He wondered.
TotalEnergies and CNOOC Uganda Ltd are the leading petroleum companies at the centre of developing the oil fields to commercial production with a fast accruing deadline of 2025
Lubega said the issue of landlords who are not traceable has stopped several fronts of the project to progress, holding the local area leadership and the community liable but the waiting has been in vain.
He said efforts to trace landowners, especially in several townships in Hoima, Buliisa and Kikuube districts were futile as most of the owners are suspected to have migrated to other townships and urban areas.
It should be recalled that the particular the 1965 Land Acquisition Act was challenged in the Constitutional court in 2014 by the cesidents along Hoima-Kaiso Tonya road when the Uganda National Roads Authority attempted to take over their land before Compensation.
Corporate Affairs Manager at PAU, Gloria Ssebikali, said the companies are not in bleach of any law, especially once they acquire the land after depositing an estimated value to the Courts of Law as required by the Act.
“At least according to the current Land Acquisition Act, it is not a bleach. It provides for compulsory acquisition by depositing the amount in court”. Ssebikali asserted.
She added: “The amendment that was being proposed was to make it a little more direct for a project to go on, as long as the Companies evaluate and deposit that estimated value with the court of law.”
Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court found the Act inconsistent with Article 26(2) of the Constitution which provided for the speedy payment of a fair and adequate compensation prior to the take-over of a property.
The Supreme Court also held that Article 26 was not among the non-derogable rights, which does not give government powers to compulsorily acquire people’s property without prior payment, adding that such a government project is not categorised under disasters and emergencies.
In the Act okayed, the minister has powers to appoint a valuer for that particular contested property, and the process goes on which ends with a government take over.
This was revealed to the team from the Uganda Human Rights Commission who had gone for a guided tour to engage the project-affected communities, security agencies and other human rights defenders in Buliisa district.
The team led by Commissioner Crispin Kaheru had engagements with the different players and it was eminent that rights violations were tense in the region, with multiple accusations thrown at the security operatives in the region.
The communities accused the police and army of championing the acts of intimidation, especially on issues related to land rights and grabbing.
The engagements were attended by the district government representatives such as the Resident District Commissioner, District Internal Security Officer, District Community Development Officers, and the District Police Commander, whom Commissioner Kaheru implored to observe respect for human rights and desist from being used by land grabbers against the communities.
“Let’s have a meaningful dialogue between the leaders, the intending buyers, and the Communities to avoid the unnecessary crashes. Respect for the laws and rights,” Kaheru remarked.
The Oil Development project into a commercial phase currently stands at approximately 10 percent in parts of Kingfisher Development Area and is expected to be ready for crude oil production by 2025.
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