TORORO – As an exhibition for co-existence, Hima Cement on Wednesday3 relinquished back ownership of contested land to 16 families in Tororo district.
The Cement factory had acquired the relinquished contested land in Mwelo village Mulanda sub-county Tororo through its agent Optima mines and minerals company that reportedly used fraudulent means to acquire land from land in 2017 and later attracted public attention that forced the affected people to file their complaint before the high court.
The land was supposed to host a quarrying plant that would feed the factory’s new cement plant that it recently established in Nyakesi village Rubongi sub-county five kilometers away from Tororo town along Tororo-Mbale road.
It’s alleged that besides rushing to seek court, the dissatisfied project affected persons under their umbrella ‘’Mwelo Lands Rights Protection Association’’ petitioned the Commission of inquiry on Land matters that visited the district last year in 2018.
The land was barely Hardrock covering the three villages of Pamaraka, Rugot and Mwelo South and it was expected to have expanded to cover a half of the village after the commencement of production.
However, during the handover of the land to the initial landowners that was witnessed by members of the commission of inquiry on land matters led by its chairperson Justice Catherine Bamugereire, the Chief Executive Officer Hima Cement Mr. Jean Michael Pons apologized before the affected communities for the mess adding that it has not been their practice.
He said Hima Cement has always considered ensuring that people are paid for their land based on the current value and through willing buyer willing seller principles.
Mr. Pons emphasized that Hima Cement took a decision to relinquish the land back to the community after learning that their agent had not used recommended standards of procedure that it has very often used to acquire land for its investments.
‘’The people of Mwelo we apologize for the mess that was involved in acquiring of your land but in respect to the future of growing generation we have taken a decision to relinquish ownership of the land to you without asking you to refund back the money you received earlier’’ he said.
‘’It’s our appeal that you resettle back assume full ownership of your land and company commits an assurance of not demand any refund of advanced payments’’ he added.
The handover of land to the initial owners witnessed most of the thenaffected people praising Hima Cement for the generosity it had exhibited to the local community who some of them had been rendered land less after misusing the money they were paid for their land.
This newspaper learnt that some of the affected persons got excited with the money and failed to buy land to settle and later remained landless.
Ms. Magaret Aketch a widow and one of the then affected person thanked Hima Cement for returning back her land that she said she had been robbed.
She said as an illiterate, the agent did not disclose the amount of money she was to be paid and she feels she was underpaid because land was under-declared.
‘’We don’t oppose development but we feel the investor did not use transparent means to acquire the land but in future, we are ready to offer our land in case the investors continue to develop invest’’ said Ms. Aketch.
Whereas the majority of the community members were jubilating for getting back their land, a section of the affected persons remained unhappy and requested the government to sweet talk the investor to return back and enter new transactions with them.
While witnessing the handover of powers of land ownership to the locals, the chairperson of the commission of inquiry to land matters Justice Catherine Bamugereire thanked Hima Cement for exhibiting the highest level of humanity.
She said as commission, they were proud to witness the handover and discouraged investors from using agents to acquire land for their investments.
‘’Some of the agents you use have bad reputations in the community, therefore, it’s our guidance that when you want to acquire the land it’s better you deal directly with the landowners to avoid soiling of reputations’’ she advised.
Justice Bamugereire appealed to members of the community to always be conscious of the people they deal with on matters related to land because there are individuals who have positioned themselves to amass wealth through cheating.
She encouraged leaders in the area to ensure that they protect their people from the mafias that she said have flooded the country to dupe communities.
One of the affected persons told this newspaper that some of the leaders were among the people who moved with the people who dumped them.