Unease. An 87-kilometer road is nearing completion in northern Uganda but, as Judith Atim finds out, people whose land was taken to make way for its construction are jittery that their deserved compensation may be swindled by unscrupulous individuals.
“When I went to sign for my voucher to be compensated for my land and permanent house, they folded the voucher and asked me to sign. I was not able to know how much money I was signing for. They said it was a huge sum and that it was risky for me to open the voucher while there. They said if I did, thugs would follow me and attack me. I complied with what I was told. When I reached home, I opened the voucher and realised I only had slightly over Shs2.2 million.”
This is the story of Ms Grace Acan, in her forties, one of the people displaced to pave way for the construction of the 87-kilometre Acholibur-Musingo road, which passes through the districts of Pader, Kitgum and Lamwo.
She says earlier, one of the officials dealing with the compensations had remarked that she should be compensated to the tune of at least Shs90 million. On finding that she had only been handed a voucher worth just over Shs2.2m, she went to seek clarity. She claims that the officials admitted they had made a mistake and that she should be given another voucher with a higher amount.
Her subsequent visits have, however, been met with hostility.
“Every time I go to their offices, they talk to me rudely and tell me to go away,” Ms Acan says.
It was here in Pandwong where on March 27, 2017, heavy rains led to massive flooding which affected close to 20 families.
Locals say that because of the delayed compensation, they are unable to relocate from the road reserve. So in the meantime there are no provisions for drainage channels. The road level is way higher than the floor level of houses and shops, meaning that when it rains, the flood waters drain from higher ground to lower grounds, rendering several houses uninhabitable.
Ms Hellen Lukwiya, 65, is one of those affected by the recent flooding.
“I had three bags of sorghum and 70 Kgs of peas and they were all destroyed; now I don’t know how to make ends meet,” Ms Lukwiya says at her home in Mon Bunyo Village, Pandwong Sub-county.
These are both victims who have been caught up in a dispute over land compensation which is now causing unease and fomenting discontent among landowners in three districts in Northern Uganda.
Accusations of fraud
The Project Affected Persons (PAPs) estimated to be over 200 are seeking compensation worth billions of shillings for their land that was taken to give way for construction of the road.
The claimants come from the sub-counties of Latanya and Acholibur in Pader District, Amida, Pandwong, Pager, Central Division, Layamo and Mucwini in kitgum District, and Madiopei in Lamwo District.
They have pointed accusing fingers at some officials of the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), Katuramu and Co. Associates, which in this case is the compensation consultant, and Komconsult Ltd, which was hired as the supervising consultant.
The claimants cite several irregularities that have marred the compensation process, including ghost beneficiaries, bribery, and demands for kickbacks. They have also alleged connivance between UNRA officials and LCI officials to defraud landowners, reluctance by UNRA to provide the list of beneficiaries to LCV chairpersons and Resident District Commissioners, detailing how much each beneficiary is supposed to get.
According to Mr Vincent Okoth Obutu, the chairperson of the Project Affected Persons in Acholibur Sub County, no sensitisation was carried out about the road project.
He has also accused UNRA of dealing directly with Local Council I chairpersons without involving land owners, a situation which locals say led to some details not being captured.
“We are happy about this project because it will improve transportation and Trade, it shows that the government cares but our complaint is with the project implementers,” Mr Okoth said.
In addition, he says, the valuation team that was sent by UNRA conducted the exercise in the absence of land owners; and that people were not shown the exact boundaries of the road reserve.
“When we come to Kampala to meet these UNRA officers, they pretend to be humble, but when they go to the field where the project is, they are very rude to us,” Ms Concy Ajok, a member of the PAPs representing the elderly, says.
Ms Ajok has also raised concerns of intimidation of the PAPs by unknown people.
“Recently three men came to my home at around 3:00 am and started making phone calls. I got concerned and made an alarm which scared them away,” she says. She later reported the matter at the police station.
The road project
Work on the Acholibur-Musingo road started on September 22, 2014 after UNRA (the client) contracted China Chongquing International Construction Corporation (CICO) to carry out the road construction works.
The other Company, Komconsult Ltd, was contracted as a Supervising Consultant. According to the complainants, there are “ghost beneficiaries” to the compensations, who residents claim are employees of this company.
This Newspaper made several attempts to get a comment from Komconsult, but the many phone calls went unanswered, making it difficult to verify the claims of the residents.
However, Mr Chris Turyagenda, a compensation specialist with Katuramu and Co. Associates, in a telephone interview with this Newspaper denied the reports, dismissing them as rumour mongering.
“I have not seen any person complaining about what you are raising with me,” Mr Turyagenda said, although he admitted that there are some grievances which the company is addressing.
A tour by Daily Monitor earlier this month of the affected areas is in sharp contrast with what Mr Turyagenda claims.
This reporter visited some of areas under contention and heard several claims by residents that they are asked to sign payment vouchers without being shown the actual amount of money, which they suspect is a trick the officials handling the compensation claims are using to dupe claimants, some of who are illiterate and ignorant.
In Acholibur, the locals there argue that the road is not as wide as it should be.
“The road here measures only 23 meters instead of the 30 meters, so we want to know how UNRA is going to account for the seven meters and how this will affect property owners in future,” Mr Luka Nyeko, the chairperson of the Technical Committee of the PAPs, says as he holds out a tape measure to demonstrate that the road is actually 23 meters.
The claimants are concerned that by September 2017, CICO will have finished the over Shs 195 billion road construction project and will hand over to UNRA, which might force them off their land yet they have not been compensated and are not sure of when they will receive their pay.
Some of the complaints are that some land owners have not been shown the boundaries of the road reserve, while others claim that their houses have developed cracks due to vibration and tremors caused by the heavy road equipment being used for the construction project.
They have also cited safety concerns following the laying of water pipes under several houses, coupled with the fact that electricity transmission lines are passing over their houses, putting the lives of hundreds of families at risk.
Some of the irregularities they have pointed out include variation in payment which has led to cases of underpayment and overpayment in some parts. They claim that UNRA valuers gave wrong information to UNRA and refused to provide strip map books after they (PAPs) unearthed ghost beneficiaries.
They further contend that some houses have been paid for yet they are not affected by the road works.
In areas such as Pandwong, Amida, and Acholibur, a number of residents who spoke to this Newspaper pointed out that water pipes have already been laid under their houses while electricity lines are passing over their houses, putting their lives at risk, but they have not been paid by UNRA, meaning they cannot vacate the houses.
The roads agency says it is aware of the complaints raised by the PAPs, and that they have had several meetings with them to see how best to address their grievances.
UNRA says it has instructed the compensation consultant (Katuramu and Co.) to go back and verify claims of omissions to be able to determine whether there are individuals who are affected but have not been included in the valuation report.
In 2010, UNRA says it hired a consultant to carry out a study of the project. However, it later hired a different consultant (Katuramu) to do the actual implementation.
During a review of the report, they say they realised that there were many errors and some issues including omissions.
“Generally, in some places it was just gross negligence on the part of the person who did the work first,” Ms Juliet Oyella, a land acquisition officer at UNRA, tells Daily Monitor.
A decision was then made in consultation with the chief government valuer for the work to be redone.
Indeed Katuramu prepared the first supplementary report which was approved and payments were made. The report carried details of the Project Affected Persons.
From this first report, UNRA says a total of 492 PAPs have been paid and fully compensated. However, a second supplementary report was prepared to capture complaints such as undervaluation, omissions and realignment, which had not been captured in the first report.
According to Ms Oyella, the second supplementary report had a total of 1,055 PAPs and to date, 479 have been compensated.
A third supplementary report was prepared after the first two. UNRA says this was mainly due to issues of realignment in some places. This report had 425 PAPs out of which, it says, 30 have been paid.
“But also we have instances where we have the same person appearing in subsequent reports because perhaps there is more land taken from his land as a result of realignment, or something was omitted in previous assessments which have to be captured,” Ms Oyella adds.
Regarding the issue of ghost PAPs, UNRA says that recently it sent a team of investigators to do a verification exercise. A land acquisition team was also dispatched to verify reports of ghost claimants by speaking to individual beneficiaries.
The investigations were mainly for supplementary reports 2 and 3 because, according to Ms Oyella, “supplementary report 1 was successfully implemented,” even though 85 people were not paid “because they were absent”. She says an unspecified number of claimants were left out because the road was realigned.
UNRA says that only one ghost was discovered in Acholibur area because the community was able to identify the rightful owner of the land.
“It turns out the LC1 chairman had written his son’s name as a beneficiary yet the land didn’t belong to him,” Ms Oyella, explains, adding that the consultant has been instructed to go back, capture details of the right person and prepare a report to that effect.
Ms Oyella says they have established that most complaints of undervaluation are not genuine, attributing it to misunderstandings by the PAPs of how much they are supposed to receive.
“A PAP may have a sizeable portion of land and in their understanding they think all of it is going when it’s only a small portion that is within the road reserve,” she added.
She says they are going to demarcate and check out the extent of the road reserve and mark it, so that everyone knows where the reserve is starting and how much land is within.
The land owners Daily Monitor spoke to maintained fears that with just five months left to the completion of the project, they might not be able to receive money for the compensation.
Ms Oyella says when in September CICO hands over the road to UNRA, the land acquisition team will take over. But how soon the PAPs will be compensated, she says, depends on a number of factors.
“This (compensation) is a process and even if I went back and assessed somebody today, they can’t expect me to pay them tomorrow,” she argued.
She says the report has to go through an approval process by the Chief Government valuer, which is followed by verification, accepting the awards given and then a payment process at UNRA.
“We also need to be mindful that the land acquisition budget at UNRA is not unlimited, so we wait for money to be released by the government on a quarterly basis,” Ms Oyella adds.
Claimants like Ms Acan, however, are not keen on UNRA’s explanations. Their immediate concern is to get proper compensation for their land, and it does not matter to them whether the mess they are in was created by UNRA or the contractors.