16 June 2017

Uganda: How Wakiso Residents Lose Billions in Dubious Land Deals

Wakiso — Several unsuspecting residents are losing billions of Shillings in bogus land deals to middlemen who disguise as employees of the ministry of Lands zonal office in Wakiso District, Daily Monitor has established.

Sources privy to the dubious operations have told Daily Monitor that various plots of prime land in the district are being registered using forged documents to overwrite genuine records and the blame is tagged to the middlemen.

The middlemen are not working alone. They serve as conduits for some officials in the lands office at the district who fear to receive bribes directly, knowing the likely repercussions.

While appearing before the commission of inquiry into land acquisition and management led by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, at Wakiso District headquarters recently, the district land officer, Mr Gilbert Kasozi, admitted that middlemen have become a menace at the district land offices.

"They have previously used my name to extort money from some people. One businessman was fleeced of Shs300 million for land in Lubowa on Entebbe Road, while another, an Asian investor, was conned of Shs1.5 billion after being promised land in a forest reserve," Mr Kasozi said.

According to Mr Kasozi, the unscrupulous middleman had promised to offer the Asian investor a freehold title in Gunda Forest Reserve in Katabi-Entebbe and was allocated 99 hectares of land.

"The middleman deceived him that he was processing a land title for the forest reserve. When I told him to report the matter to police, he feared. Sometimes, these victims are accomplices of the middlemen and some land officials," he said.

Such deals are allegedly effected in connivance with land registrars and high profile people. Many big chunks of public land, including wetlands and forest reserves in Wakiso District have been parceled out to private developers and freehold titles issued.

According to Kasozi, the two investors are just an example of hundreds of others who have fallen victims to the curse of middlemen.

This alleged collusion has also seen plots of land demarcated in wetlands and already three district registrars: Emmanuel Bamuyite, Arato Lowera and Vero Namutebi have been implicated in issuing impugned titles in forest reserves and wetlands and are being investigated by the commission.

"When middlemen spot public land regardless of whether it is a forest reserve or a wetland, they reach out to tycoons and broker the acquisition of title certificates. Many titles are understood to have been issued out because money has exchanged hands. We know that the deals have sometimes back fired and the investors have lost hefty sums of money," an official from Wakiso lands office, who preferred anonymity to speak freely about the matter, said.

Last week, Mr Matia Lwanga Bwanika, the Wakiso District chairperson, said conmen were taking advantage of unsuspecting victims because the district zonal office is not supervised, which impedes enforcement against any illegality.

Mr Bwanika said the district zonal office usurped powers of the district land office; a situation he said has fuelled disputes over land ownership in the area.

Ms Harriet Nankya, the Wakiso District senior forestry officer, however, puts the blame on negligence of the National Forest Authority and lack of equipment by the district to mark and document boundaries of the reserves.

"We cannot safeguard the boundaries of the reserves without equipment. We can't even do effective monitoring because of lack of resources," Nankya says.

The senior staff surveyor in the district Lands zonal office, Mr Edward Kakooza, said acts of middlemen are fuelled by land owners who are too busy to follow up on their land transactions.

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