18 June 2017

Uganda: Cabinet Clears Draft Law for Forceful Seizure of Land

Kampala — The Cabinet has cleared proposals for the amendment Bill to the Land Act, 1998, to allow forceful acquisition of land and compensate land or property owners later, especially for large infrastructure projects.

Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana told Sunday Monitor yesterday that the "principles of the Bill were cleared" and are before the First Parliamentary Counsel to draft adjustments to the land law.

"The draft Bill will be tabled before Parliament any time soon," Mr Rukutana said.

But both Mr Rukutana and Land minister Betty Amongi, who told Sunday Monitor that the issue is now a matter for the Justice ministry, were noncommittal on details of the adjustments to the law. But government has since mooting the proposal mid-last year consistently rebutted claims that it plans taking over land forcefully, and maintained that the public is misconstruing its proposals.

Ms Amongi, in an earlier briefing at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala, said the amendments are intended to shorten the bureaucracy involved in acquisition of land for projects by allowing government to start the projects pending negotiations on compensations with the affected persons.

All land in Uganda, according to Article 273 of the 1995 Constitution, belongs to the people while Article 26 (2) stipulates: "No person shall be compulsorily deprived of property or any interest in right over property of any description except where the taking of possession is necessary for public use and or is made under the law after prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation.

Court ruling

The Supreme Court in a ruling on Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) versus Irumba Asumani and Peter Magelah in 2014 reinforced that whereas Article 26 was not among the non-derogable rights, this does not give powers to government to compulsorily acquire people's land without prior payment, and that such planned government projects do not fall under the exceptions of disasters and emergencies.

The court was ruling on a constitutional petition filed by Unra contesting an earlier ruling in which the Constitutional Court regarded the Land Acquisition Act of 1965 that gives government power to forcibly acquire property before payment of compensation, as "unconstitutional." The land acquisition Act was last amended in 1970.

Land remains a very sensitive issue in Uganda and has in the recent past been a subject of conflicts in various parts of the country. The Land Act (1998) provides for four land tenure systems - Customary, Freehold, Mailo; and Leasehold but each system presents unique compensation challenges.

The major land giveaways by government coupled with hundreds of evictions from land by private investors have all been central in generating the prevailing friction over the issue.

Land disputes that ensued early last week between the Acholi and Madi communities in both Amuru and Adjumani districts have claimed at least six lives, left 21 severely injured and scores displaced from their homes.


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