14 June 2017

Uganda: Land Probe - 1,300 Complaints Filed in 2 Weeks

Photo: Joseph Kiggundu/Daily Monitor
Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, the chaiperson of the Land Iinqury Commission (2nd R) and other commissioners during a seession at Wakiso District headquaters recently.

Kampala — At least 1,380 cases of land disputes have been registered before the Commission of Inquiry into Land matters in the last two weeks, senior officials within the probe have said.

The complaints were received from Wakiso, Luweero and Nakaseke districts where the commission led by Court of Appeal Judge Catherine Bamugemereire has held public hearings and field visits.

Mr Ebert Byenkya, the commission lead counsel, yesterday said the commission has started scrutinising the complaints with a view to deciding on the next course of action.

The complaints, according to Mr Byenkya, include cases of alleged extortion against land officers, delayed land transactions, forgery of titles and overlap of land rights and interests, bribery, non-availability of land officials at the district.

Others include missing land documents, land grabbing, evictions, irregularities in allocation of land by district land boards as well as issuing of land titles in gazzetted areas such as forests, wetlands and lakes.

Those accused, according to evidence before the commission, include the Uganda Land Commission, Wakiso Town Council and the district land boards.

In Wakiso, businessman Gaster Lule commonly known as Ntake, is accused of evicting people from a 15-acre piece of land in Muntungo-Kitiko, Makindye Sabagabo while Mr Sudhir Ruparelia, another businessman, is accused of encroaching on Lutembe wetland, off Entebbe Road in Wakiso District.

Lutembe is one of Uganda's 12 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), comprising a surface area of 454,303 hectares.

In Nakaseke District, businessman, Hajj Swaib Yiga, who claims to be Gen. Salim Saleh's agent, is accused of grabbing and evicting hundreds of families from more than 1,000-acre piece of land comprised in six villages, while in Luweero, another landlord identified as Paul Ddiba is accused of evicting occupants from a piece of land measuring more than 500 acres.

Mr Byenkya also said some of the complaints are filed against landlords, land registrars and other government officials accused in land disputes.

Only Mr Lule has since been questioned before the commission in regard to the complaints but he said the 15-acre land is part of 30 acres on two separate blocks (75 and 83) that he bought from William Sentongo in 2010 but without carrying out a due diligence.

He said he relied on the assurances by Mr Sentoogo that the land was free of encumbrances and that the occupants were settled on another block 84.

"We paid for 30 acres on two land titles and the assurance was that the entire land was free but at the time of developing, I discovered part of my land was occupied. I tried to speak to the encroachers peacefully but they said they had titles," Mr Lule added.

The other accused parties are yet to file their defence to the commission. In a statement issued on Monday, Ms Olive Kazaarwe Mukwaya, the Commission secretary, said the commission will take off time to review the complaints to agree on the way forward.

On May 8, the commission commenced its public hearings where several land officers, district land boards, local government authorities and government institutions as well as cultural institutions have since been blamed for the rampant land conflicts in the country. Senior government officials including ministers, heads of government departments, lawyers, politicians, businessmen and peasants have testified before the commission.

The former State minister for Lands, Ms Aidah Nantaba, blamed the land disputes on speculation where officers in the ministry of Works connive with their counterparts in the Lands ministry to acquire land in project-affected areas in order to demand exaggerated compensation costs making it difficult for government to compensate them to implement its programmes.

Ms Nantaba said the highly placed officers in government including generals in the army, big people in police, and some ministers fraudulently acquire land titles to evict the poor.

Witnesses also accused Uganda Land Commission of overstepping its powers to allocate numerous parcels of land, a situation that has led government to lose billions of shillings and land.

Key issues

The complaints, according to Mr Byenkya, include cases of alleged extortion against land officers, delayed land transactions, forgery of titles and overlap of land rights and interests, bribery, non-availability of land officials at the district.

Suspects. Former State minister for Lands, Ms Aidah Nantaba said the highly placed officers in government including generals in the army, big people in police, and some ministers fraudulently acquire land titles to evict the poor.

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