Compensation remains one of the biggest challenges in the implementation of the Rural Electrification Phase 1 project, which is expected to be completed in December 2024, according to officials from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.

Ms Joan Kayanga, Head of Rural Electrification Department, indicated that compensating Project Affected Persons (PAPs) in some communities is posing significant challenges as the project nears its end.

She stressed that the public should appreciate the efforts of the government to bring services closer to the communities. She acknowledged that development comes at a cost and that the implementation of projects would be a huge challenge if all those affected were to be compensated.

Ms Kayanga illustrated this by explaining that compensating people for land through which a power line passes would hamper government plans to provide those communities with access to electricity. She noted that Uganda has one of the lowest electricity access rates in the region.

Therefore, the project often targets communities that are more receptive to it, with or without compensation.

“We are constantly working on our projects. If a community hesitates and demands compensation, we move on to communities that are willing to accept the project without compensation,” Ms Kayanga said.

Ms Kayanga made these comments on behalf of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Ms Irene Bateebe, during a three-day training workshop for environmental officers, community development officers, engineers and representatives of the National Forest Authority, National Environment Management Authority, Uganda Wildlife Authority and contractors on environmental and social safeguards in Jinja town.

She added that communities should not ask for compensation but should work with local leaders to facilitate access to power.

Mr Samuel Bishop, Project Coordinator of the Uganda Rural Electricity Access Project, said the project, which started in 2015 and is funded by the African Development Bank with US$121 million (about Sh445 billion), is expected to end in December.

Despite budget cuts, the project has faced significant challenges, including vandalism of electrical cables and other equipment by opponents.

“We faced challenges in the tender process and vandalism was a major setback. Equipment is often stolen, which hampers our progress,” Mr Bishop explained.

He clarified that the project does not buy land to place poles, but compensates for damage to crops and trees. However, the compensation amounts are not very appreciated.

More than 40,000 PAPs are set to receive compensation, but so far only about 3,000 of them have received a payment.

The project aims to provide sustainable and affordable electricity to households, public infrastructure, schools and health centres in rural Uganda in about 16 districts including Iganga, Luuka, Mbale, Serere, Alebtong, Soroti, Amuria, Kaliro, Buyende and Kalangala, using a 7 km submarine cable to Bugala Island.

Several speakers, including environmental officials and psychologists from construction companies, said local communities often feel ignored, until resistance arises.

Mr Moses Kato, Senior Environmental Officer at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, stressed the importance of documenting issues before project implementation begins.

Mr James Okot of the National Forest Authority raised concerns about replacing wooden electricity poles with concrete ones and wondered what the impact would be on tree growers.

However, Mr Kato replied that concrete poles are only used in areas with termite problems, to prevent accidents.