Rwamutonga compensation court case hangs in balance as evicted families struggle to raise 37 million court fees

A court case by over 250 families who were evicted from their land in Rwamutonga village in Bugambe sub county Hoima district in western Uganda still hangs in balance following their incapability to pay 37 million Uganda shillings(about USD 10,000) in court as filing fees.

Last year, the affected families filed a case against the landlords, Tibagwa Joshua and others, seeking orders of cancellation of land title on grounds of fraud and 31.8 billion Ugandan shillings as compensation of their crops, animals, houses and household items which were damaged during the eviction in 2014.

Nelson Atich, one of the representatives of the affected families in court, says court assessed the filing fees at 37 million due to the huge compensation claim.

Atich says the affected families are too poor to raise 37 million shillings and are looking for assistance from well-wishers, adding that with the help of Justice Centers Uganda, they only paid 100,000 shillings.

Jonathan Tiyo, a lawyer from Justice Centers says under the law, failure to pay filing fees renders the suit incompetent; and they have applied to court to exercise its discretion and ignore the filing fees and regard the evictees in the suit as paupers.

Pauper suits are provided for under the law. Order 33 of the Civil Procedure Rules, provides that a person without the means can apply to court to waive the fees and permit him or her to sue as a pauper. However, before court exercises its discretion to waive the fees, it has to first make inquiry into pauperism.

In case court fails to permit them to prosecute as paupers, the evictees will have to either amend the case and seek only cancellation of land titles and abandon the claim for compensation, withdraw the fees or appeal to well-wishers to pay the filing fees.
The families were evicted in 2014 on orders of two landlords, Tibagwa Joshua and Bansigaraho Robert, to pave way for an oil waste treatment plant. They were consequently forced in the internally displaced peoples’ camps.

With support from NGOs like National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), they were able to return to their land following the ruling by Justice Simon Byabakama in 2015 that the eviction was unlawful.

Story compiled by Precious Naturinda

Individuals riding on American company to re-evict people from land in the oil rich region in Uganda

Hardly a year after, over 250 families gained access to the controversial land at Rwamutonga village in Bugambe sub county Hoima district, the same residents could be evicted again at the hands of people claiming to be employees of Uganda’s state house.

These, yet to be fully identified people  are already reported to be hatching plans to re-evict the former evictees who had started recovering from the shock of the 2014 brutal eviction.

Two businessmen, Joshua Tibagwa and Robert Bansigaraho had, in 2014, struck a deal with an American company, McAlester Energy Resources Limited to lease them land at USD 1.6 Million that saw about 1200 residents flashed out of their homes.

The evictees, majorly comprising of women and children, last year gained access to the land from which they were evicted three years ago .This was after Robert Bansigaraho turned against his business associate and relinquished the title of the land to the affected community claiming he had erroneously titled the land.

Mr. Bansigaraho’s action was prompted by interventions of NGOs like National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) and Justice Centers Uganda that advocated for mediation to help the affected communities.

The evictees have since rushed to court to challenge authenticity of Mr. Tibagwa’s title.
The evictees may however not realize a sustainable normal life on the same land since  a number of people claiming to be working for government have started calling and threatening their leaders to back off the land or they get arrested.

Nelson Atich, a representative of the affected families in court says he has received numerous calls from some of the people who claim to be working with police and statehouse saying they have plans to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment on the land in question for an upcoming project.

“I have received numerous calls, one of them being one, Kiiza Andrew who claims to be from the president’s offices saying he has sent a team of people to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on Rwamutonga land so that a project takes off but they did not name the project,” Atich told Community Green Radio.

Atich also reveals that leaders of the affected residents have received several threats of plans to be arrested with fabricated charges if they do not back off the court case to allow McAlester access the land.

“There is a plan to have all leaders arrested including me with a scheme of exhausting us with capital offenses so that they weaken the case in court,” he added.

The investor intended to set up an oil waste treatment facility on the land but later pulled out because of the controversy over the said land. However, according to the transaction documents obtained by Community Green Radio, McAlester had advanced Tibagwa USD 300,000 to compensate and relocate residents.

The affected persons remain in dilemma as to whether McAlester have renewed their interest in their land or it’s a ploy by unscrupulous individuals to take their land.

When contacted  on phone, Andrew Kiiza, , a purported official from the President’s office, denied working with statehouse but he only acknowledged working with a government department he was not willing to reveal.
He, however, exonerated state house from meddling into Rwamutonga land conflict saying many politicians are hiding their heads in the soil to benefit from this transaction. He acknowledged calling Atich Nelson but denied the intimidation claims. In his opinion, he said although the Rwamutonga land may seem to belong to the affected communities, court should expedite the litigation process to dig out the truth. He said the two businessmen, Joshua Tibagwa and Robert Bansigaraho duped the investor McAlester and local politicians have grabbed the opportunity to gain political capital from the communities.

 ‘’What is wrong with McAlester accessing that land if the process is legally done??? Why do you want to know where I work on phone? Come to Kampala we link up in my office not on phone….’’Kiiza charged at this journalist before the phone hung up.

Story compiled by Katemburura Robert