Oil refinery land case captures judge’s attention eight years later

  • After challenges of movement from Hoima to Kampala High Court, the PAPs petitioned the Principal Judge to prioritise their case because some of them were aging and there were economic challenges.
  • The PAPs petitioned in January 2021 calling for the case fast-tracking so that it is concluded in whoever favour
  • In 2021, the Principal Judge transferred the case to Masindi High Court
  • Coronavirus disrupted hearings until February 2, 2022. The case was adjourned to May 24, 2022. This did not work because the defendant’s lawyers did not attend
  • It was re-adjourned to November 10, 2022. The judge said it will be an entire day for that case and will involve execution of all pending cross-examinations.

It is eight years now since the oil refinery Project Affected Persons (PAPs) from Kabaale Parish in Buseruka Sub-county, Hoima District battling with a suit they filed to the Civil Division of the High Court in Kampala before it was transferred to the Land Division of Masindi High Court.

With almost a decade without any verdict on the case, the resident judge at Masindi High Court, Justice Jesse Byaruhanga Bugyema, has decided to give the utmost attention by dedicating the whole day for it alone for justice to prevail once court sits at a slated date this year.

The PAPs’ fate began when the government of Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development through its agent, Strategic Friends International (SFI) Ltd while acquiring land at the beginning of 2012 allegedly failed to compensate them promptly, fairly and adequately for the loss of their properties to pave the way for the establishment of an oil refinery in the area.

With hearing of the case commencing on June 12, 2018, at Kampala High Court through their lawyer – Bemanyisa and Co. Advocates, the PAPs want court to declare that government’s oil refinery compensation process violated Article 26 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda, the use of cut off dates through which the PAPs are stopped from using their land for new developments before compensation unconstitutional, order the government to compensate them adequately and fairly among others.

Ms Esther Abigaba, one of the PAPs says she has so far spent six years to court seeking justice for fair compensation when she lost her residential house for which she was reportedly paid Shs1.4m that she says does not add up to its value.

The PAP wonders that for all her properties including 29 acres of land and crops, she was paid Shs114m instead of her expected Shs567m basing on land transactions she witnessed when other people bought pieces of land in the neighbouring areas outside the gazette oil refinery land.

“Considering what I saw when people were selling land in other areas outside the refinery land, the money I was given was so small a fraction that it could not match the value of my properties,” Ms Abigaba told our reporter at Masindi High Court on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

Mr Christopher Opio, another PAP wonders that SFI on June 2, 2021, after successful assessment, they were told and agreed to stop doing any development on their land for which until now they are yet to be compensated; coercing them to seek redress at the Kampala High Court.

He also wonders that some PAPs who opted to be resettled and have houses constructed for them after relocation, have never had any.

“Out of the 73 PAPs who government wanted to build houses, 27 never got them at Kyakabooga resettlement village for them and up to now, the remaining people do not have anywhere belonging to them to put up. They are only being accommodated in neighbouring villages,” Mr Opio says.

Ms Jennifer Makune’s land at Kabaale Village in Buseruka Sub-county, Hoima District was also part of the earmarked area for the construction of an oil refinery.

With the prevailing situation forcing the PAPs to run to the High Court in Kampala and hearing of the case beginning on June 12, 2021, the government has so far cross-examined only five out of 11 PAPs in six court sittings.

Mr Tumwebaze, the Chairman Oil Refinery Residents Association (ORRA) says the matter benefits all people affected by oil projects all over Uganda.

“Our case is not only meant for our benefit. It is also for the benefit of other Project Affected Persons (PAPs). We want court to rule on matters that are also important for communities that have been affected by these oil projects including Tilenga, Kingfisher, East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and other oil projects that are taking place in the country, he says.”

Following a complaint by the 75 PAPs and the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) over delayed hearing of their case considering the distance from Hoima to Kampala and the high costs involved, the Principal Judge, Justice Dr Flavian Zeija, on January 12, 2021, transferred the case to Masindi High Court.

In their letter dated May 23, 2022, through their association –ORRA and AFIEGO, said: “It’s worrisome that since the filing of the case, the oil refinery affected people including women have had to travel for over 246km [from Hoima to Kampala] to have their case heard in Kampala High Court before it was transferred to Masindi High Court.”

Adding: “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 and homes to travel for the court case hearings. We pray that the judge is considerate to these women and elderly people and he expeditiously hears this case to end their suffering,” said Ms Doreen Namara, AFIEGO’s Legal Assistant on May 24, 2022, before High Court in Masindi sat on May 25, 2022.

Presiding over the case at Masindi High Court, Justice Bugyema, adjourned it November 10, 2022.

Addressing the PAPs at Masindi High Court premises, Counsel and Managing Partner, Allan Bariyo at Allan & Festo Advocates, said on that day at 10am, there will be a cross examination of the complainants who were not examined while the defendants will be cross-examined at 2pm.

Mr Opio confirmed the adjournment saying the designated entire day will be for oil refinery case currently in Masindi High Court.

Audio: Opio on oil refinery land (English)

Government in 2012 acquired 29 square kilometres of land for the construction of the oil refinery displacing more than 7,000 people in 13 villages including Kitegwa, Kyakabooga, Kabaale, Nyakasenene, Kijumba, Kyapuloni, Bukona and Nyahaira among others.

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