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MTN faces parliamentary probe over land grabbing

The company reportedly ferried construction team to Burera to construct a road leading to its towers in the area. (NET PHOTO)

KIGALI – A Rwandan parliamentary committee is handling a case from northern Rwanda in which telecom giant MTN Rwanda is accused of conniving with local officials to undervalue and thereby grab land from helpless local villagers.

The lawmakers, in a session Tuesday morning, were visibly angry and unwilling to listen to explanations of Mariya Florence Uwambaje, the mayor of Burera district, where the case is based. She was facing the Committee on National unity, human rights and the fight against Genocide.

For the issue to reach parliament, it suggests the affected families have been to every office they can possibly access. Parliament has been establishing itself as the point of last resort for people who cannot get answers.

MTN’s woos go back to 2008. The company reportedly ferried construction team to Burera to construct a road leading to its towers in the area. In the process, farmland and other property was destroyed. The affected community is located in Nyamabuye village, Nyamabuye cell, Kagogo sector in Burera District.

The affected people sought compensation but their pleas fell on deaf ears until early last year when members of this particular committee got wind of the case. A site tour was conducted.

According to their report, based on information provided by Kagogo sector, the telecom itself carried out a valuation of the land and whatever was destroyed. The cost was put at Rwf 16,881,010. The community accepted the offer after more negotiations.

However, without the involvement of the residents, MTN apparently returned later saying a new valuation had put the losses at Rwf 3,107,000.

From nowhere, the value of what people lost went down by up to 80%.

Michel Nteziyaremye is among the affected mentioned in the parliamentary report as a representative of the community.

In the session today, Burera Mayor Uwambaje said she suspects there could have been connivance between MTN and some officials to defraud her people. She also alleges money could have changed hands.

The mayor told the committee that she had written to MTN more than twice with no response. “I have tried several times to approach MTN such that we can handle this issue but have not got any response,” said Uwambaje.

With the mayor also claiming she is powerless, lawmakers were in overdrive. Some suggested they should help the community to launch legal action against MTN.

“This issue has dragged on for over 11 years and we cannot accept it to go on any longer,” said committee chair Elisabeth Mukamana.

MP Annoncee Manirarora added: “Fraud is written everywhere in this case. MTN connived with some sector officials to under-value these peoples’ property. MTN should also be summoned to this committee.”

The suggestion to summon MTN was seconded by MP Marie Pelagie Rutijanwa, who added: “MTN cannot act as if it is above the law. They should come to tell us when exactly they will compensate these victims. We don’t need any more explanations.”

For lawmaker Winifred Niyitegeka, she said she could not understand how a whole district mayor writes to MTN and it did not have the courtesy to respond.

“How can MTN ignore a representative of the state who is actually trying to solve a problem they created,” said Niyitegeka.

The committee also resolved that in addition to MTN paying up, all those involved will be identified for possible prosecution.

The Burera Mayor was directed to prepare a report for parliament detailing all people involved in the case.

Meanwhile, the Mayor informed the committee that this Saturday, February 23, he will convene a meeting with Nyamabuye village residents, and would submit a final report to the lawmakers on February 26.

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