Kampala. The claim by 13 people seeking compensation of about Shs600b for the rock on land the government bought from them for construction of Isimba power dam has no merit, the Solicitor General has said.
“If these people were compensated under the Land Acquisition Act and they accepted the payment, then their rights on the land were relinquished. They bought from other people; what if those people also come back and make fresh demands, the claims will not end,” the chief legal adviser to government, Mr Francis Atoke, told the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters yesterday.
The Ministry of Energy had petitioned the commission challenging demand by the 13 claimants who are seeking compensation for sand and a rock on 28.5 acres they had sold to government.
The commission is investigating Shs600b claim for the rock and sand reserves on the disputed land in Kayunga District where Isimba hydro-power project is being constructed.
“Our opinions are given basing on request made to us and they are general interpretations,” Mr Atoke testified.
It is alleged that the disputed claim is based on a February 2016 Solicitor General’s opinion which recommended that the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) compensates the project-affected persons for their property, including rock and stone.
However, in his testimony, Mr Atoke attributed the claims to contradictions between sections of the Mining Act and Article 244 of the Constitution regarding definition of rock and stone. “We need to bring the matter to the attention of the Constitutional Court for declaration so that there is no ambiguity on what a rock is,” Mr Atoke said.
He said the claims for compensation for the rock are new based on people’s different interpretation of the law.
“Before these claims, no claim or payment has ever been made for rocks or stones whatever the definition is. It does not mean that it is illegal if nobody has ever made it. It has been brought to somebody’s attention,” he added.
Mr Atoke said the Solicitor General’s opinion can be reviewed based on correctness and facts provided.
He blamed government agencies for not providing the entire documents while seeking his legal opinion. Mr Atoke said the Solicitor General’s office only learns about such a case later when it is before an inquiry body or a court of law.
Flanked by Mr Christopher Gashirabake, the director of legal advisory services, Mr Atoke protested the ongoing investigations citing the subjudice rule which bars discussion of a matter still pending determination in court.
“When I raised this issue, I was very much aware of the terms of reference of the commission. I was also very much aware of the cases we have in court and I was mindful of the fact that there are certain defences that we want to use in these cases. If they come out in the open, we may be alerting the other party,” he said.
However, the commission’s lead counsel, Mr Ebert Byenkya, said one of their mandates is to assess the legal and policy framework on government land acquisition.
“The matters in litigation are personal and narrow. We are not discussing the merits and demerits of the cases and the size of the claims,” Mr Byenkya said.