The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Wetlands Eviction Order Hard to Enforce - Ministry

Developments on wetlands and other hurdles are likely to make it difficult for the government to implement a recent directive to cancel land titles in swampy areas, the Lands ministry spokesperson has said.

In an interview with The Observer last week, Denis Obbo admitted that most of the affected land is now encumbered. Obbo argues that many title holders have paid huge sums of money to the controlling authorities in form of premium and yearly rent. He added that many of them then went ahead to encumber the titles by introducing third parties, some of whom are mortgagees.

"The ministry will find it difficult to immediately cancel such titles, more so if there are developments which may have been done after issuance with approvals from the relevant planning authorities," he said, adding that a special budget should be considered for the likely legal actions.

While announcing the directive last week, Information and National Guidance Minister Rose Namayanja said: "Those [titles] issued before 1995 [when the Constitution was promulgated] may be surrendered by lessees to government under compensatory arrangements."

According to Frank Muramuzi, the executive director of the National Association for Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), the directive is long overdue because of illegalities related to issuance of the land titles.

"It is government that issued these titles and I am happy that it has recalled them on ground that they were not issued in accordance with the law," said Muramuzi, whose organisation has been at the forefront of efforts to reclaim wetlands from encroachers.

Obbo admitted that although there is a law governing wetland protection and management, it has not always been strictly enforced. This, he says, is often because of wrong information submitted by the Area Land Committees (ALCs), at the time of application for titles. ALCs have the responsibility is to inspect and ascertain that the land being applied for is not a wetland.

"It is not the responsibility of office of titles to verify that the land in question is a wetland," Obbo added. "This office only relies on documents, submitted by the ALCs, with approval of the District Land Boards to process and issue these titles."

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