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Karuma villagers want dam halted

After winning the contract for the construction of Karuma hydropower project, Chinese firm Sinohydro promised to start work within two weeks.

However, this might not be possible, following fresh wrangles that threaten to delay the project. Besides compensation wrangles, a rival Chinese company, China International Water and Electric Corporation (CWE), has gone to court to challenge the award of the contract to Synohydro.

The families affected by the project have petitioned the Electricity Disputes Tribunal, pursuant to the Electricity Act, seeking to halt construction of the dam until compensation rates have been agreed on.
Once completed in seven years’ time, the dam is expected to spur economic growth.

In a representative suit between William Ogik versus Attorney General, more than 54 project-affected families are contesting the “meagre” compensation rates offered. According to the complainants, the rates are inconsistent with inflation trends in the country.

Ogik is one of the residents of Awoo and Diima villages, Mutunda sub-county, Kiryandongo district, who must pave way for the construction of the 600MW hydropower project. The Karuma dam project is to displace more than 400 families in the four villages of Karuma, Awoo, Nora, and Akurudia in Kiryandongo district.

“We want the project but we need to be reasonably compensated. We want the right value for our property,” Ogik told The Observer after appearing before the tribunal.

Ogik wants the tribunal to order for the compensation rates to be reviewed upwards, describing what is being offered as “too low and doesn’t take into account the current market value of our property.”

According to the chief government valuer, a mature local mango tree is worth Shs 65,000, but the locals say Shs 260,000 would be more appropriate. When the affected person’s own proposed rates were rejected, a legal challenge was mounted.

“I take this opportunity on behalf of 54 other project affected people to lodge my complaint with your office to intervene and ensure that project developers of Karuma stop cheating us by using old and outdated low compensation rates,” Ogik’s petition to the tribunal reads in part.

The affected people want the tribunal to accept their proposed rates and compel the developers to use them as the basis for compensation, something that the Attorney General disputes.

“We ask that the project should be stopped until the issues of compensation rates are settled,” Ogik writes in his petition.

The compensation case has been adjourned to July 30, 2013, after the attorney general asked for more time to allocate the case to a new lawyer. Martin Mwambutsya, a state attorney, told the tribunal that Edson Karuhanga, who was handling the case on behalf of the attorney general, has since left his job. Mwambutsya, therefore, needed time to acquaint himself with the case.

“I’m distressed, the attorney general keeps on seeking for adjournment,” Ogik complained.

Dickens Kamugisha, Chief Executive Officer of African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), argued that seeking for adjournments is a trick that government uses to frustrate petitioners such that they can give up on their demands.

But Ogik says the complainants are determined to block the project if compensation is not addressed.

ssekika@observer.ug

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