27 November 2012

Uganda: Govt Sorting Out Land Problems


Land is a God-given means of sustenance for all living things, which makes it rational and prudent to use for the continuation of all living species.

Land utilization should be able to transform us as individuals and the entire society to be able to live a better life. The ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development has provided some solutions to enable this transformation process begin, which will ultimately lead to a transformed Uganda where land tenure security is enjoyed.

The return of peace in northern Uganda has been accompanied by a significant increase in land-related conflicts. Customary land, which accounts for an estimated 80% of Uganda's land, has remained largely unrecorded, with customary landowners fearing that they may lose it to unscrupulous persons because they do not have authentic papers to prove ownership.

Even tenants by occupancy in the districts of Wakiso, Luweero, Nakasongola, Kayunga, Buikwe, Buvuma, among others, have raised the same concerns. Issuance of Certificates of Customary Ownership (CCOs) and Certificates of Occupancy (COs) is demand-driven, based on requests from the benefiting districts. CCOs provide legal protection to customary land owners, including women, children and persons with disability, who are increasingly expressing their concern that if they do not possess documentation, they will lose their land.

The COs, on the other hand, are proof of ownership of a kibanja, which protects tenants from being illegally evicted. For my ministry to actively get involved in issuing these certificates, it requires all the land administration institutions at the local level to be in place and operational, i.e., area land committees, recorders, district land boards and district land offices. For tenants, they require showing proof of payment of busuulu and their respective landlords need to consent.

In my capacity as minister responsible for Lands, I issued a statutory instrument gazetting the annual nominal ground rent (busuulu) payable by tenants to landlords in October, 2011. Tenants have taken money to some landlords who have rejected it because it is too minimal and not commensurate to the size and value of the bibanja they occupy.

Where busuulu is rejected, tenants are expected to take it to the Magistrate's courts which are currently performing the duties of the land tribunals ever since they were suspended by the judiciary. My ministry has taken up this matter to engage the judiciary to ensure that the Magistrates' courts receive this money in line with the Land Administration Guidelines on enhancing security of occupancy of lawful and bona fide occupants on registered land under the Land (Amendment) Act, 2010.

My ministry has been and will continue to sensitize local leaders and the public on the Land Amendment Act, 2010, which criminalizes illegal evictions. We have a programme covering the central region, except that we are having a problem of funding which has now been compounded by the recent budget cuts made to support the health sector.

My ministry will use this opportunity to give the public literature on their land rights, land procedures and land forms. It is anticipated that by the end of this sensitization, tenants and landlords will know how to relate to each other and the procedure will lead to the issuance of Certificates of Occupancy by the recorder, who is the sub-county chief at local government level, and both parties will appreciate the importance of living in harmony and utilizing the land gainfully.

One of the critical interventions that will sort out the issue of multiple rights on the same piece of land is the operationalizing of the Land Fund, so that tenants can be given loans to 'kwegula' and acquire registrable interests pursuant to article 237(9b) of the Constitution.

The regulations will determine how the loan component will be managed. More importantly, this will depend on availability of funds for this activity to commence.

I acknowledge that there has been a challenge of lack of land title covers in the land registry for some time and owners could not get titles, since new transactions could not be registered.

Secondly, because of the forgeries of land titles, other enhanced security measures have been introduced to the land titles which include a half ink mark stamp and a serialized number. The issuance of new serialized titles has begun. With introduction of these measures and the computerization of the Land Registry due to be completed in February, 2013, fraud and forgeries will be extremely difficult to execute.

There have also been concerns about the role of RDCs in land matters. RDCs chair security committees in their areas of jurisdiction. Land matters have in many cases taken on a security angle. Where we have had persistent threats of evictions, RDCs have been requested to ensure that the law is complied with and law and order is maintained.

The government is greatly concerned about the rampant land evictions and conflicts in the countryside and has decided to convene a meeting of key stakeholders which will come up with a way forward to address the current problem of land evictions.

Lastly, I would like to assure the nation that most of the current land problems will be addressed when we start the implementation of the National Land Policy, which is currently being considered by cabinet.

The author is minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.

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