When President Yoweri Museveni, in his capacity as NRM party chairman, met 278 legislators on Wednesday evening, he envisaged an easy going with government's plan to amend Article 26 of the Constitution.
The Constitution Amendment Bill 2017, which was tabled before parliament in July this year, seeks to amend the Constitution to allow government to take compulsory possession of private land to build infrastructure and investment projects without being bogged down by compensation disputes.
If enacted, the law will enable the central government or local governments to deposit in court compensation awarded for any property required for public works, and immediately take possession.
When the caucus meeting kicked off shortly after 5pm, it seemed like an unwritten resolution from majority of the legislators not to cow to any attempts by the president to persuade them to support the amendments.
According to highly placed sources privy to the meeting, President Museveni reportedly started off the meeting in a combative mood, angrily stating that he had received information from his intelligence officers that some "useless opportunists" have been spreading false news that government plans to use the proposed bill to grab citizens' land.
The source quoted the president as saying, "I have spent time massaging selfish people and groups and I am not interested anymore... The issue that you people must help me answer is, is there a problem in executing government programmes or not?"
Another source who declined to be quoted on record intimated to The Observer that the visibly charged President Museveni, in a move that was viewed to try to intimidate the legislators, roared that some politicians, particularly from Lango, Acholi and Buganda sub-regions, have been going around the country poisoning members of the public to malign government.
"These people are being hosted on particular radio stations. I don't know what the minister of ICT and National Guidance (Frank Tumwebaze) is doing. How can he allow these stations to air this?" Museveni reportedly questioned.
The president also singled out Felix Okot Ogong (Dokolo South), also chairman of the Lango parliamentary group, accusing him of using his radio station, Voice of Lango, to propagate lies against government and saying the president wants to steal their land.
At this point, Ogong shot up on grounds of procedure and reportedly walked towards the microphone to respond to the president's accusations against him.
Before Ogong could say anything, the president pointed at him, ordering him to return to his seat immediately.
"Let that man sit down," Museveni said, to which Ogong obliged without question.
Later, Ogong was given opportunity to raise his concerns, where he stated that the challenge with government is in planning, noting that disputes of compensation would not arise if projects were planned early.
"We should at least plan three years before projects are made to avoid delays. If this was my government, things would be different," the MP said, drawing laughter.
However, Museveni shot him down, reminding him that this is what government has been doing, calling Ogong's government a non-starter.
The deputy attorney general, Mwesigwa Rukutana, was given opportunity to present government's position on the amendments. To the disbelief of MPs, Rukutana reportedly presented a different position from what he earlier presented before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee.
Clause 3 of the amendment bill states that where the owner of property or any person having any interest in or right over property objects to the compensation awarded under a law made under clause (2) (b), the government or local government shall deposit with court for the property owner the compensation awarded for the property, and the government shall take possession pending determination by court of any dispute.
However, Rukutana presented a redrafted bill during the meeting stating that the taking of possession or acquisition of property, where the owner of the property or a person having an interest in the right over the property has contested the compensation award; provided where there is dispute on quantum of compensation awarded by government, the compensation shall be paid to the owner of the property prior to taking possession or acquisition of the property.
"The AG explained to us that in the new amendments, the land owner can be paid money valued by the government valuer first, thereafter the dispute handled in the courts of law," multiple sources said.
The deputy attorney general's statement did not go without rebuke as some legislators booed him, while others seemed to agree with the new amendments.
Among those in support of the new amendments were Stephen Mukitale (Buliisa) and James Waluswaka (Bunyole West). Waluswaka tried to rally his fellow legislators, but his pleas were drowned with further boos.
"Sit down, you fool. You are confused and want to confuse us and the president," MPs reportedly shouted, while some rushed towards him and tried to grab the microphone from him. At this point, the president tried to calm them down, asking that order is restored.
It was the intervention of Denis Hamson Obua (Ajuri) which restored sobriety in the frenzied meeting when he suggested that instead of amending the Constitution, government instead amends other laws to cater for the lacuna they claim is in the law in regard to compulsory acquisition of land.
According to the sources, Obua reportedly questioned the president that while there may be a problem in execution of public projects, would it necessitate amending of the Constitution to cure the matter? His statement drew loud applauses and feet stamping from the legislators.
Citing Article 26 (2) (b) (1), which compels government to provide adequate, prompt and fair compensation of landowners prior to takeover of the land, Obua instead suggested that the special tribunal or a special division in the High court is created to handle all dispute-related matters within a time framework of 90 days.
His suggestion drew more applauses, prompting the president to relent and ask the attorney general to look into the proposal.
"I only wanted a solution for the unnecessary delays. If the new ideas can solve it, I have no problem. The color of the cat, white or black doesn't matter; so long as it can catch a rat," Museveni was quoted to have told the caucus.
The meeting which ended shortly after 8pm resolved that there are no more delays of government projects, particularly roads, electricity, oil pipeline and the standard gauge railway; vulnerable people's rights should be considered and setting up a committee to scrutinize the proposals.
At a press conference convened yesterday, the government chief whip, Ruth Nankabirwa, said a 10-man committee, headed by the vice president, Edward Ssekandi, had been set up to handle the issues raised.
Other members of the committee are Lands minister Betty Amongi, Attorney General William Byaruhanga, Justice minister Kahinda Otafiire and MPs Gastor Mugoya (Bukooli North), Veronica Bichetero (Kaberamaido), Sam Bitangaro (Bufumbira South), Robinah Rwakoojo (Gomba West), Jackson Kafuuzi (Kyaka South) and Denis Obua.
Meanwhile, sources have intimated that Otafiire and Amongi held a meeting yesterday to draft the terms of reference for the committee.