12 February 2013

Uganda: New Land Policy in the Offing

Photo: Precious Birungi/Newvision
Kampala has a deficit of 100,000 housing units according to finance minister.

In a bid to sort out Uganda's messy bands subsector, Cabinet last week approved the Land policy with far-reaching implications.

For instance, the new policy, meant to provide a framework on how land will be managed and used in Uganda for the next 30 years, has called for an amendment to the Land Act, to restrict foreign nationals' interests in land. Whereas Section 40 (3) of the Land Act provides that a non-citizen shall not be granted a lease exceeding ninety-nine years, the approved policy proposes an amendment that will reduce the lease to only 49 years.

Former Chwa MP Livingstone Okello-Okello says it is intended to grant residual rights over land ownership to native Ugandans.

"Land is primarily for the citizens of Uganda; so, it is good for the citizens to enjoy more rights over land than the foreigners," he added.

The new policy will also see government introduce a new legal regime to regulate the booming real estate sector.

"We want to control and regulate this sector by introducing a system that limits the sector not to encroach on areas that should be utilized for other land usages like agriculture and industrial purposes," said Dennis Obbo, the ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development spokesperson.

Until recently, the real estate sector has been one of the fast-growing sectors in the economy but its sustainability would rest on a clearly formulated legal regime. Lands Minister Daudi Migereko adds that land -use rationalization will- also be achieved through frequent monitoring of land usage.

"A monitoring mechanism is provided for to ensure that those who acquire large pieces of land utilize them for productive purposes other than speculation." Migereko added that the new policy will also allow Ugandans to own land without any prescribed ceilings, through a well-regulated land market and a Land Information Management System.

However, Okello-Okello is opposed to unlimited land acreage ownership. "This talk about a free land market will not work because it is wrong not to have a ceiling on how much land one would own," he said.

"This capitalist approach was done in Brazil and you realize that it has rendered a very big portion of the population landless at the favour of ten per cent of the population that owns land."

No taxing idle land

Whereas the draft policy had initially proposed a tax on idle land as an incentive to put land to proper use, Cabinet rejected this.

"Cabinet did agree that as a way of putting land to proper use, the owners of idle land should just be sensitized on how their land can be utilized other than being taxed," Obbo said.

But others are unhappy about this.

"People with idle land must be compelled to put land to proper use because if we are to be soft, a lot of land will remain idle and unproductive yet it has a great impact on the socio-economic transformation," said Kiboga West MP Samuel Ssemugaba,

The policy is also planned to address protection of rights of the historically marginalized including women, children, people with disabilities and minority groups as well as native landowners.

Obbo said his ministry would publicise the policy and ensure it is followed.

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