Opinions

JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED

By Guest Writer

Dear Editor, the compulsory acquisition of land has always been a delicate issue and is increasingly so nowadays in the context of rapid growth and changes in land use.

Governments are under increasing pressure to deliver public services in the face of an already high and growing demand for land. Many recent policy dialogues on land have highlighted compulsory acquisition as an area filled with tension.

From the perspective of government and other economic actors, according to Balemesa et al, 2016, they argue that the often conflictual and inefficient aspects of the process are seen as a constraint to economic growth and rational development.

They also noted that the process usually brings tension for people who are threatened with dispossession and that compulsory acquisition of land for development purposes may ultimately bring benefits to society but it is also disruptive to people whose land is acquired. It displaces families from their homes, farmers from their fields, and businesses from their neighbourhoods.

It may separate families, and interfere with livelihoods. Compulsory acquisition of land and compensation deprive communities of important religious or cultural sites, and destroy networks of social relations. If compulsory acquisition is done poorly, it may leave people homeless and landless, with no way of earning a livelihood, without access to necessary resources or community support, and with the feeling that they have suffered a grave injustice. If, on the other hand, governments carry out compulsory acquisition satisfactorily, they leave communities and people in equivalent situations while at the same time providing the intended benefits to society.

A study by ACODE (2016), “balancing development and community livelihoods”, show that in Uganda land acquisitions are largely triggered by infrastructure development for electricity generation and distribution, roads, mineral and petroleum development, agricultural investments, resettlement for war and environmental refugees, conservation purposes and land speculation.

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The study also notes that, land acquisition may involve national governments, multinational companies, international investors, and private land speculators. No matter what form it takes, land acquisition leads to displacement of people from their ancestral lands and home, loss of property and destruction of livelihoods.

The case in point is vividly remembered of the 2012 compulsory land acquisition in Kabaale, Buseruka sub county, Hoima District, where government through Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) acquired 29sq km of land to construct an oil refinery in this area.

Following this development, a resettlement action plan was developed to guide the compensation and resettlement of an estimated 7118 project affected persons (PAPs). The PAPs included 1221 households and 2473 directly affected land owners and licensees. Out of the 1221 households, 93 households opted for physical relocation which meant that government was to identify for them land somewhere.

The project affected persons had several grievances some of which were settled by the grievance handling mechanism that was set by the consultant, however, some of the complaints the consultant couldn’t handle and they referred those aggrieved to seek other means which among others was courts of law, and I remember the consultant had a good intention as all they needed was transparency, fairness and justice. Unfortunately, since 2014 when the aggrieved PAPs filed a case against government, the case has never been concluded causing more frustration.

The PAPs including women have had to travel for over 246km to have their case heard in Kampala High Court before it was transferred to Masindi High court. Although the case was transferred from Kampala to Masindi on assumption that the distance is nearer, women and the elderly will still travel from Hoima to Masindi to seek justice. Some can’t afford the transport fees and others have to leave their children at home to travel for the court case hearings.

Therefore, my appeal is that the judiciary/government should ensure that cases of this nature is fast-tracked or they should set a tribunal in every region to ensure that in case there is such a complaint by the project affected persons, the cases are handled in the shortest period of time possible. This will reduce on the delays in the implementation of government projects and help project affected people to appreciate and embrace such development projects.

The writer is Christopher Opio, a refinery project affected person and the coordinator of Oil Refinery Residents Association (ORRA), Kabaale-Buseruka

Disclaimer: We as UG Reports Media LTD we welcome any opinion by any one if it’s of a constructive use to the Development of Uganda. All the expressions and opinions in this write-up are not of UG Reports Media LTD but for the author of the article.

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