5 January 2013

Uganda: President Intervenes in Nantaba Land Wrangles

The Government has set up a team to look into the scuffle between Lands State Minister and Woman MP for Kayunga district, Aidah Nantaba is engaged in and landlords over evictions.

Nantaba accused the landlords of evicting squatters without compensation. Landlords and investors on the other hand accuse her of flaunting court orders by forcefully resettling squatters who had been evicted by orders of the court.

What the Attorney General says:

The Attorney General, Peter Nyombi, told New Vision there have been a series of meetings to discuss this matter.b"We are trying to solve the problem. But the fundamental point in this is to create mutual understanding between the investors and the minister," Nyombi explained.

A taskforce, headed by Nyombi, is also expected to determine compensations that might arise out of the minister's actions. "The technical team will go to the ground and establish the facts," he said. Two Danish firms are already demanding for compensation worth sh250m.

Tamale Mirundi praises Nantaba:

Presidential Press Secretary, Tamale Mirundi, said the Attorney General's office is expected to respond to legal issues arising from the minister's actions. "Lawyers in Government told the President during one of the cabinet meetings that Nantaba was flouting the law. The President instructed the Attorney General to handle the matter," Mirundi said.

Tamale Mirundi, however, applauded Nantaba for exposing corruption and arrogance in the judiciary. "Some court officials are being used by tycoons and powerful politicians to grab land from the poor. She has helped us to expose them. I can assure you the President is behind her," Mirundi said adding that Nantaba helped the President to fight land grabbers in Kayunga.

On Christmas eve, President Yoweri Museveni met Nantaba and other top government officials who, according to sources privy to the meeting, included the Vice President, Kiwanuka Ssekandi, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Attorney General Peter Nyombi over the same issue.

Nyombi confirmed attending the meeting in which the President reiterated his concern about evicting helpless people from villages. Lands minister Daudi Migereko, too, confirmed the meeting saying government is keen to have the law followed in all cases of land evictions.

Accusations againt Nantaba:

The minister is said to have redistributed land owned by a real estate investor in Luwero, Riis Coffee in Buikwe district, Danuga Farm Uganda and land belonging to Eria Paul Kiwanuka, a businessman from Kayunga district.

In one of the cases, it is reported that Danuga Farm acquired the land from former Internal Security Organisation boss, Henry Tumukunde, and the squatters were to be compensated by title holders. But Tumukunde said he compensated them. He accused Nantaba of siding with the squatters in order to gain political favour.

The minister's action was also protested by the Danish embassy. In 2001, Uganda signed an agreement with Denmark to promote and protect investments belonging to each other's nationals.

Compensations being demanded:

Two Danish investors are demanding for compensation for crops, vehicles and buildings destroyed during the takeover of the land.

Kayunga businessman, Eria Paul Kiwanuka, secured an interim order from Jinja High Court blocking Nantaba from trespassing on his 325-acre piece of land in Kakotero village, Bbaale sub-county in Kayunga district.

Kiwanuka alleged that he lost 32 heads of cattle, 27 goats, 120 bunches of matooke and farm equipments, when Nantaba purportedly led a group of people, who trespassed on his land. In a civil suit, Kiwanuka seeks compensation of sh56m. Through his lawyers Jambo and Co. Advocates, Kiwanuka wrote to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Gen. Kale Kayihura asking for protection. Kiwanuka told New Vision that he had compensated all the squatters.

Efforts to talk to Nantaba about her next step to ensure the 34 families evicted from the land to get back to their former homes were futile as she could not respond our calls. But she justified her action in an earlier interview that the squatters had been compensated with "peanuts", that is the reason she had to intervene.

Migereko speaks out:

Lands Minister, Daudi Migereko, says Government has come up with a new policy which will mandate investors and landlords selling their land to produce a resettlement action plan in instances where evictions are expected.

The resettlement plan should clearly show where the displaced people are expected to be resettled and their possible sources of revenue in the new areas. "This new policy is in line with Government's rural transformation plans. We cannot talk of lifting millions from poverty if we fail to address the issue of rampant land evictions. If we ignore this problem, we shall risk paying high price in future," Migereko said.

He said Buvuma islands was a success story where Government is compensating and resettling residents who are being displaced to give way for sprawling palm oil plantations.

Land laws vs moral expectations:

Under Uganda's land law a squatter who has lived on a piece of land for 12 years before 1995 constitution is entitled to compensation even when one has already been compensated by the titleholder of that same land.

Yusuf Nsibambi, a city lawyer and an expert in land issues said legally, Nantaba must respect court decisions. But he said morally she was right to resettle the squatters arguing that, the 34 families must settle somewhere because they are Ugandans.

He also defended Nantaba saying land cases take decades to be disposed off, yet most squatters cannot afford to hire lawyers.

Nsibambi added that the minister had however started her fight against land grabbing with tycoons and some powerful politicians at late stage.

"She is only carrying out a postmortem on this matter. People are being evicted with the help of state agencies like Police. What is worrying is that the state is working with the tycoons," he explained.

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