STATEMENT ARISING FROM CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVITIES TO HELP LOCAL COMMUNITIES AFFECTED BY THE INTERCONECTION POWER PROJECTS (UGANDA-KENYA AND UGANDA-RWANDA INTERCONECTION POWER PROJECTS, 12TH -22ND MARCH 2012
TO THE UETCL MANAGEMENT
1. Our statement is informed by the UETCL’s press release that was published in the New Vision of April 5th, 2012, entitled: “UETCL clarifies on compensation claims”. In the release, UETCL claims that AFIEGO is leading a group of civil society to mobilize project affected people along the project lines to reject compensation awards approved by the Chief Government Valuer.
That the AFIEGO group is inciting the public to be hostile to project officials and shun disclosure meetings. UETCL concludes that the actions of AFIEGO group border on sabotage of government programmes and is unacceptable.
2. We would like to respond to UETCL press release and share with you the concerns/suffering of the project affected people and above all inform you about our action programme to help our fellow citizens. It should be noted that this statement in addition to responding to your press release, it is also a detailed account of civil society’s efforts to ensure that power development projects lead to socio-economic development and benefit the poor and vulnerable communities. It is intended to inform and update UETCL’s management about our work and objectives to empower the citizens to appreciate and enjoy their rights.
About the project
3. We recognize that currently, the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) through the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program (NELSAP) is implementing two key initiatives aimed at guiding the development and trade of power in the NELSAP region – The Nile Basin Initiative Regional Power Trade Project (RPTP) and the NELSAP Power Program. In Uganda the project is being implemented through the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd, with two projects: the Uganda sections of the 172 km, 220 kV Mbarara-Mirama Hills (Uganda) – Shango (Rwanda) Electricity Interconnection Project and the 256 km, 220 kV Jinja (Uganda) – Lessos (Kenya) Electricity Interconnection Project. In this respect, UETCL has an obligation to ensure that the project’s success does not happen at expense of people’s rights. You must ensure justice and equity.
AFIEGO and partners
4. The Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) and partners take this opportunity to inform UETCL and entire government that we support the above project and will continue to make our possible contribution for the success of the project. However, the project must respect the citizens’ rights.
5. AFIEGO is a registered public policy research and advocacy nongovernmental organization whose main goal is to promote transparency and accountability in the management and utilization of energy resources for the common good, especially for the benefit of the down trodden people and vulnerable communities. Our work and contribution to the above project must be seen and interpreted from this public perspective as opposed to UETCL’s capitalistic approach.
6. While we appreciate that the above power projects are important for Uganda, we are concerned that the implementation processes are impacting on our fellow citizens especially the voiceless poor in the local communities negatively as will be seen in the observations below. There are these problems which compelled us to conduct the following activities: project rapid appraisal/assessment, the community dialogues, the stakeholders’ forum, and petitions to the Speaker of Parliament and Minister of Energy and, plans to file court cases.
Between 1st January and 22nd March, AFIEGO, UNDF and partners conducted a number of activities regarding the power projects including:
THE PARTICIPATORY RAPID APPRAISAL
7. A participatory rapid approaisal was conducted in the districts of Ntungamo, Mbarara, Jinja, Mayuge, Iganga, Bugiri and Tororo and its main objective was to document the implementation of the project processes regarding issues of compensation, valuation, grievance handling and others regarding the project affected local communities.
8. The appraisal was followed by community dialogues in Ntungamo, Iganga and Tororo and their main objectives were to help the Project-Affected people (PAP) to share their experiences regarding the project and also get updates from the project implementer/ UETCL, create awareness on community rights and responsibilities vis a vis the interconnection power project and, provide information to communities regarding all options available for grievance handling and if possible, get instructions to represent them in the courts of law.
9. The community dialogues were followed by a National Stakeholders Forum entitled: “The Nexus between Trans-boundary Power Projects in the Nile Basin and Community Livelihoods in Uganda”. It was organized on 22nd March 2012 at Fair way hotel and its main objective was to bring the problems and concerns of the local communities regarding the power projects to government and other policy makers’ attention for policy action.
10. The community dialogues in Ntungamo on 12th March, Iganga 15th March and Tororo 16th March were attended by a total of over 157 participants including 6 UETCL staff headed by Mr. Edward Mutesa and James Engaro. On the other hand, the stakeholder forum held on 22nd March at Fair Way Hotel in Kampala was opened and closed by Eng. Henry Bidasala. Bidasala represented the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD), Hon. Irene Muloni. Over 74 participants attended the forum. In effect, we are working with both government and UETCL at every stage and its therefore surprising to see UETCL alleging that we are sabotaging development through inciting the suffering people.
11. The following observations/issues were raised by the participants in presence of UETCL staff and the energy ministry during the dialogues and the forum:
- Secrecy: The communities where UETCL is implementing the project do not have accurate and timely information regarding the project. The UETCL staff who do evaluation and assessments just go to individual households with their documents written in English and tell people just to sign.
- Intimidation: UETCL is using threatening language to intimidate the poor People (PAP) who don’t have the necessary information about the project and their rights to sign for compensation documents which they don’t understand the implications. They tell them to sign or else the government would take the property without any compensation because the law allows it.
- Ignorance about the laws and policies: While its common law that ignorance of the law is no defense, we think, it is against public policy for UETCL/government to use laws and policies which the local communities don’t understand. People don’t know anything about the laws which provide and protect their rights and therefore live at the mercy of companies who are interested in profits rather than public good.
- Poverty: Most of the people in the project areas are poor and have weak capacity to negotiate and protect their rights. Because of poverty, people are always willing to give up their property in exchange for anything.
- Low Compensation rates: UETCL is using low rates to compensate the affected people. In some districts, for instance, Mbarara, UETCL used rates of Isingiro district to compensate Mbarara people which resulted in unfair compensation because Mbarara is a town based district while Isingiro is still a village where property is relatively cheaper.
- Late payment of compensation and inflation: At the moment, UETCL has no specific time frame within which evaluation, assessment and compensation payments to the PAP must be effected. Payments take 2 or more years and when its done, they don’t consider inflation effects.
- Absence of ERA offices and Electricity Dispute Tribunals (EDT) in the districts: While the law allows any person/people affected by UETCL actions to petition ERA or appeal to EDT, such services/offices are not in any of the affected districts. So, any person aggrieved who wants to challenge UETCL must come to Kampala where ERA and EDT offices are located. Most of the affected people cannot afford this and as a result, it leaves PAP at the mercy of UETCL and her informal purported resolution mechanisms (sub county resolution committees) which are always biased against people. And there are also lacking in most of the affected areas.
- Expensive traditional courts: In absence of ERA and EDT offices to provide redress to the aggrieved, the affected people are expected to go to traditional courts for justice. However, the poor affected communities/people cannot afford the expensive and technical traditional courts. This is a violation of people’s right to justice.
- Lack of involvement by the local leaders: UETCL does not officially involve local leaders such as district, Sub County, parish and others in the exercise.
- Stopping the affected people from using their property before resettlement or payment of compensation: once UETCL has identified and assessed the property, they immediately tell the affected person/people not to do any further development on the said property. As result, people, for example who had started building cannot complete their houses and others cannot use their land for cultivation. As noted above, most of the UETCL exercises whether its assessment, compensation payments, etc take years and the people’s capacity to challenge such practices is lacking because of lack of information, lack of ERA and EDT offices in the communities, un-affordable court system and others, this is sinking people into more poverty, misery, food insecurity, etc.
- UETCL makes affected people to sign but does not leave behind any copy to the affected person: in some cases, UETCL makes people sign on files and thereafter, take them away leaving no copy to the property owner. This is creating suspicion among the PAP that UETCL is doing it to change the records in the process because 2 or more years which UETCL take to complete the compensation processes is enough for people to forget.
- Notice and marks to the property: While the law provides that a developer/licensee must mark the land/property he or she wants to take and give notice to the affected person, UETCL is not giving these notices. And its being abused. For example, in Ntungamo where UETCL plans to build a power station, the UETCL staff went and paid the land owner without giving him a notice specifying the exact part of the land they wanted. After paying, they entered the land in his absence and fenced off six acres in the middle of his cattle farm which has rendered the entire land useless. The person is planning to go to court.
- Lack of participatory EIAs: UETCL has failed to ensure that people in the areas processes and this endangering their environment.
- Lack of transparency by UETCL: UETCL is isolating communities/people using its individual disclosures which deny people an opportunity to speak and negotiate together to strengthen their voice to bargain for good compensation. UETCL is not open with information, payment time and others.
Recommendations that need action:
12. The following are recommendations by the project affected people which require immediate action from UETCL/government and:
a) UETCL should use current rates: government should ensure that UETCL and other developers always use only up to date/current rates of the year in which compensation is being paid and the rates of the affected district. No compensation exercise should take place in absence of up to date compensation rates.
b). Fix time for updating compensation rates: Government should use her powers to ensure that each district always put in place up to date compensation rates before every end of March, each year.
c). Sensitization of communities by the government: Government should educate and sensitize people on laws and policies to enable people know and protect their rights for effective development. Further, UECTL should also sensitize and provide accurate and timely information to the project affected people from the beginning up to the end of the project to avoid the ongoing suspicion and mistrust.
d). Time frame for compensation payments: Government should specify a time frame within which a person’s property is assessed and compensation paid. This time should not exceed four months and any delay beyond the period of 4 months should attract interest thereon.
e). Put in place assessment and compensation regulations: Government should put in place regulations for the assessment and compensation of affected people as required by section 20 of the Land Acquisition Act, cap 226.
f). UETCL give written notice and copies to the affected people: All PAPs should always be given a written notice with a sketch of the property, and a copy of any document where a PAP puts his or her signature.
g) Establish ERA branch offices in the affected districts: Government should establish ERA branch offices in each affected district at least to last until the end of a project to ensure effective regulation of licensees and access to justice to the PAP.
h). Establish Electricity Disputes Tribunals (EDT): Government should establish EDTs in the respective districts affected by the above power projects to enable people who are dissatisfied with ERA’s decisions to access affordable justice in form of appeals.
i). Affirmative action for the affected people: Government should design and integrate an affirmative action to enable PAPs to access affordable electricity as a reward for the inconvenience suffered by the PAP and their support of the electricity projects. This is the best way to ensure that such projects help communities fight poverty amongst themselves.
j). Conduct participatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): All projects should have EIAs where people especially the affected communities are involved and final reports translated into relevant local languages and distributed widely.
k). Ensure that every district in the country has a permanent district valuer.
l). Avoid stopping affected people from using their property: No project developer should have a say on a property where compensation has not been paid.
m). All people who feel dissatisfied by the UETCL’s compensation packages should reject the awards until their concerns are addressed.
n). Electricity Regulatory Authority and Electricity Disputes Tribunal should effectively deal with the complaints of affected people and, UETCL should not substitute them with their biased sub-county grievance resolution committees which have no legal basis/no force of law in Uganda
o). Investigate the actions of UETCL: Parliament should urgently investigate the actions of UETCL in the assessment and compensation processes regarding the above interconnection power projects to stop the ongoing violation of rights of the affected people by UETCL.
13. The action plan by the affected people, district leaders and facilitators to ensure the implementation of the above recommendations include the following:
AFIEGO to facilitate the PAP to present a petition containing the concerns and recommendations to the Speaker of Parliament and all the area MPs from the affected districts on 19th April 2012.
AFIEGO to facilitate the PAP to present a second copy of the petition containing the concerns and recommendations to the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development and other relevant government agencies including ERA, UETCL, UEDCL, UEGCL and others on 20th April 2012.
AFIEGO help the affected people who are already injured by the project to file a case against UETCL and Attorney General under the Land Acquisition Act for compensation.
AFIEGO and UNDF to continue sensitizing the communities about their rights and obligations.
14. Actions being undertaken to achieve the above:
- On 19th and 20th April, two groups, each with 30 project affected people will present petitions to the Speaker of Parliament and Minister of energy respectively at 11am. After submitting the petition, each group will hold a press conference.
- On 24th April 2012, AFIEGO will help Mr. Charles Tumwesigye Kahiirwa and Jackson Karuhanga of P.O Box 1049, Mbarara whose Leasehold land comprised in LRV 1520, Folio 3 situate at Rwampara Block 53 Plot 15, Mbarara district measuring 60acres were on 13th April 2005 misadvised by UETCL which resulted into the two tenants in common losing 6 acres of land to UETCL. UETCL took this land from the owners under the disguise of compensation but did not give the owners notice regarding the affected land and neither did they give a sketch of the land that was subject of compensation as required by the Electricity Act 1999 and Land Acquisition Act, cap 226.
- On 26th June 2012, if the affected people fail to get justice/solution from the government and Parliament or UETCL fails to listen to the suffering of the affected people, AFIEGO will help the affected people to petition the African Development Bank and the World Bank for help. We shall also file a case with the East African Court of Justice.
- In the meantime, AFIEGO will continue to empower the people, provide legal advice to the project affected people and work with government, UETCL, ERA and others to solve all the problems for the good of the people and the success of the project.
For God and my country