14 July 2017

Uganda: Constitution Bill On Compulsory Land Acquisition Splits Parliament

Photo: File photo/The Monitor
Parliament during plenary session.

Kampala — A section of Members of Parliament (MPs) on Thursday vowed to rally their colleagues in Uganda's Parliament to shoot down the proposed Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2017.

The MPs argued that if enacted into law, instead of helping government acquire land for development, the proposed bill will lead to more land grabbing and evictions in the country.

The MPs said this soon after the tabling of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 to Parliament on Thursday. Deputy Attorney General, Mwesigwa Rukutana (NRM,Rushenyi), presented the Bill for its First Reading during a sitting chaired by Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga.

The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 intends to amend article 26 of the constitution in accordance with articles 259 and 262 of the constitution. (read bill details bottom)

Article 26 of the Constitution provides for the right of persons to own property and how it can be acquired by government.

MPs demand comprehensive bill

Parliament's Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba (Independent, Ndorwa East) protested government's move to present a bill to amend only one article of the constitution despite an earlier directive by the speaker to present a comprehensive Constitution (Amendment) Bill.

Niwagaba reminded the House that at the start of the session, the Speaker had directed that government brings one comprehensive bill to amend the constitution and that a Constitution Review Commission be set up to collect views on which areas require amendment.

"Is it procedurally right for the deputy attorney general to defy the directive of the speaker and the orders of this house by attempting to amend the constitution in piecemeal?" he said.

Speaker Kadaga said parliament would not change its rules that require bills to be referred to a Committee before it can be considered by the plenary. She referred the Bill to the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for consideration.

"I don't know what is in the Bill. Let him (deputy attorney general) present it and our Committee will advise us on what to do," she said.

Jacob Markson Oboth-Oboth ((Independent, West Budama) chairs the legal and parliamentary affairs committee and he is deputized by Robinah Gureme Rwakoojo (NRM, Gomba West).

No age bill

Media reports and discussions in the the past week have claimed that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was intended to amend the constitution to remove the maximum 75-year age requirement for presidential candidates.

On Tuesday Rukutana said there was no such a bill on age limits sponsored by government, a private member or any individual.

The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 provides for how government can acquire disputed land for infrastructural development and investment projects.

"The Bill seeks to enable government, or a local government to deposit with court, compensation awarded by the government for any property declared for compulsory acquisition," said Rukutana.

He stated that the purpose of the bill is to resolve the current problem of delayed implementation of government infrastructure and investment projects due to disputes arising out of the compulsory land acquisition process.

Rukutana said that delayed government projects has caused significant financial loss to government in penalties paid to road contractors for redundant machinery at construction or project sites as the courts attempt to resolve the disputes.

If the bill is approved, government or local governments would take possession of the property upon depositing the compensation in court pending determination of the dispute.

MPs React

However, a number of MPs are opposed to the bill saying it has far-reaching implications on land ownership which negatively affects Ugandans.

Robert Franco Centenary (FDC, Kasese municipality) said if the bill becomes law, it would vest all powers over use and management of private land to government leaving citizens powerless.

"We are passionately against the compulsory acquisition of peoples' land by government because we know the mafia nature in which government operates. People are going to lose their land to big shots in government who will misuse the article and take peoples' land without compensating them. This is unacceptable," he said.

Buganda parliamentary caucus chairman Johnson Muyanja Ssenyonga (NRM, Mukono south) has also opposed the proposed proposed law, saying it would deprive Ugandans of their right to own land.

'It looks like the state wants to grab people's land using the law. We need development but we also need people to remain comfortable as people who own their property,"

"According to Article 26(2) of the Constitution, No person shall be compulsorily deprived of property or any interest in right over property of any description except where taking possession is necessary for public use and, or, is made under the law after prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation,"

The Kyankwanzi woman Mp Anna Maria Nankabirwa said the bill is contentious and needs to be thoroughly interrogated as it contradicts Article 273 of the Constitution which stipulates that: "All land in Uganda belongs to the people".

The Legal and parliamentary affairs committee will within a time frame of forty five days report back to the house on the findings in regards to the bill. Any proposal to amend or to include new clauses shall be presented before the committee that will be scrutinized together with the bill and come up with a final report to the house.


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