New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Museveni Freezes State House Land Unit

President Yoweri Museveni has directed a freeze on the activities of the State House Land Unit and RDCs involved in land conflicts.

Museveni also announced that the Lands Ministry under the newly established Land Committee now have the government mandate to ensure that the land law is not violated.

The committee is supposed to ensure that there are no more evictions, there is a nominal rent and that were a party is interested in disposing of property, it must be on a 'willing buyer, willing seller' basis. Whoever violates these terms will be deemed to be committing crime.

"This is a government body that has been set up by the President to sort this out. I had an office headed by Njuba, but since they have been doing this and the problem has not gone away, am going to tell them to freeze their activities and let the relevant people from the ministry take over. We need a new broom in this situation," Museveni said yesterday.

According to a press release from State House, the President met members of the Land Committee established by him under his constitutional right to protect the rights of peasants that are increasingly facing evictions from their land.

The meeting was attended by the State Minister for Lands Aida Nantaba who heads the committee which includes Wakiso Woman Member of Parliament Rosemary Seninde, Captain Steven Mugarura (UPDF legal department), Ms. Mulinde Mukasa (Commissioner Land administration in the Ministry of Lands), William Kototyo (Commissioner Land Protection Police Unit), Sekajja from the Judicial Service Commission and Asasira.

The meeting was also attended by the Minister for Lands Daudi Migereko, the Permanent Secretary Gabindade Musoke, Solicitor General Francis Atooke and Lubega Farouk.

The President cautioned the committee to work within the law saying the country must develop, but it cannot develop if they create lawlessness as far as land is concerned.

"If you create uncertainty it will frighten away investors. It is one thing to fight corruption and corrupt judges but do it within the law. It is also another thing to fight a court order. That is dangerous. This committee can't become a court," he said.

The President said he is surprised by landlords who criticize his decision to protect the peasants saying he is the one who repealed Amin's decree which abolished mailo land because he wanted people to own their land.

"Let's now have a land fund. It will eventually resolve this issue. The tenant will borrow and pay off the landlord and he goes off to do other things etc. this is a fair solution. Alternatively, the squatter can sell on a willing seller, willing buyer basis so that they can get money and do other things," he said.

The President told the committee that there are issues that need to be dealt with and urged them to be firm while executing their duties. "To say that this will stop development is not true. We have bayaaye who have got rich quickly and are crooked, shallow, with a low level of character. However, if there are genuine capitalists, this is a good deal for them. The peasants end up looking for you to buy them out. If the market is well regulated, there is no problem," he said.

The President said if the peasants are paid good money they will free up the land for genuine developers especially near towns and they will seek settlement elsewhere where they can take care of their families.

The President warned against what he described as pseudo capitalists including some people in the military circles, political leaders etc who aide and abate land conflicts and said this is an issue they will deal with firmly. He cautioned that even peasants who become land grabbers lose their legitimacy and that it is only peasants who have been proven to have been illegally evicted who will be protected.

"If there is an encroacher or a grabber, assist the landlord to get rid of them. Don't support land grabbers and encroachers," he said.

The President said even corrupt judges and magistrates who have delayed the dispensation of justice; taking years to deal with cases will be dealt with either through the Principle judge or the judicial service commission.

He urged the committee to gather as much evidence as possible to build their cases saying this is a struggle that must be fought legally. He said accounts will be opened at the sub county level for peasants to deposit their busuulu if the landlords avoid it and that a policy is being worked out by the chief justice where magistrates will be compelled to receive and issue receipts for busuulu payments.

The committee pledged to do its best to ensure that the law is effectively implemented and noted that this will be tackled carefully because it is contentious. They called for support and partnership with the judicial system saying the delays in the processes is a delay in justice. They said they don't want to see genocide between the peasants and the landlords but rather a healthy relationship that promotes peaceful co-existence.

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