By Dennis Ojwee
A land-owner claiming to have been affected by mud-cuttings disposals and being denied usage of his land in Nwoya district for nearly five years has dragged Total Oil and Gas Exploration Company to court for mediation processes, asking for nearly $100,000 (sh252m) as compensation costs.
The mud-cuttings were taken from the oil and gas exploration area within Murchison National Park.
52-year-old Douglas Olwoc (first plaintiff), a resident of Pabit village, Purongo sub-county in Nwoya district (then in Amuru district), the second plaintiff is the Kilak MP, Gilbert Olanya and the LC 5 chairman, Patrick Okello-Oryema as elected leaders from the affected areas.
They are represented by their lawyers, Samuel Odonga-Otto and Geoffrey Anyuru. Odonga said the case had been filed in the Gulu High Court seeking for legal redress over the matter but was deferred to the civil court as directed by the High Court for mediation purposes.
Olwoc through his lawyers claims that he has since vacated his land and he neither used nor benefited from the initial agreement over his several hectares of land since March 03, 2009 when he entered an agreement with the then Heritage Oil and Gas Exploration Company.
He said the agreement stated that he should be paid a monthly rent of sh750,000 for his land for the period of five months as a dumping area for the said mud-cuttings.
Odonga Otto laid the costs before the Gulu Chief Magistrates court presided over by the Grade One Magistrate, Paul Owino.
Odonga-Otto said the amount tabled before the court was a suggestion to kick-start the mediation processes between the plaintiffs and the defendant as it was directed by the Chief Judge of the Gulu Northern Circuit, Justice John Eudes Keitirima. The case had been filed under Civil Suit number 20/2014.
Odonga-Otto upon the request by the court laid that out of the derived total compensation value, sh70m, is towards building a commercial house for the land owner, Olwoc, sh10m to buy land elsewhere to build a house and sh30m as the cost of renting land elsewhere for the period of nearly four years and six months.
Other costs include sh20m to compensate loss of income, sh71m as instruct fee, sh23m as specialization and sh28m to buy a pickup truck for the land owner’s business.
The defendant’s lawyer, Arnest Kalibala submitted that the 2011 report by the National Environmental Authority (NEMA) indicated that the mud-cuttings had not destroyed the land as claimed by the land-owner.
He said copper and arsenic acid concentrations of 11-22 and for 19.6 medical report as quoted by the plaintiffs’ lawyer were normal. He said court should not punish Total for historical problems it found already existing from the time it took over from Heritage Oil Company.
Kalibala asked court to grant access to Total to carry out ground assessments of the land in question at Pabit and make possible remedial work on the land as an immediate activity. He suggested that other claims such as compensations or other damages as claimed by the plaintiffs’ lawyers be looked at later mediation stages. The defendant dismissed all the damages raised.
“Remediation is a technical process that should be done by technical people, rather than the court”, said Kalibala.
Kalibala said the claims that were laid before court by the plaintiff were mere suggestions that were yet to be discussed by Total and the court shall be informed of the final position on September 10, 2014 when the case returns to court.
Other claims laid before the court by Odonga-Otto included remediation of the land, damages and renting of land outside for the period of five months, loss of income and costs arising from trauma, transport and failing to cultivate for about five years.
Kalibala soon after the court had been adjourned, requested to be record on the issue of confidentiality of the mediation process of the case.
He asked court to if possible bar media from covering the court proceedings until a final resolution has been reached.
The request was however rejected by the Magistrate Owino. He said the media law supported by the Constitution of Uganda recognizes the media and cannot bar the media from covering court proceedings on matters on public concern.