21 August 2017

Uganda: Museveni Stranded With Land Amendment Bill

Photo: Daily Monitor
President Yoweri Museveni

Last week, the NRM caucus defied President Museveni, its party chairman, and rejected the government's plan to amend Article 26 of the Constitution.

The amendment, which is contained in the Constitution Amendment Bill 2017, seeks to empower government take compulsory possession of private land for infrastructure and investment projects before compensation.

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.

The resistance exhibited by the legislators may have set the stage for tougher times ahead for government, which insists the law should be passed, owing to the several stalled projects arising out of disputes on compensation.

While some NRM MPs have written off the bill, Ruth Nankabirwa, the government chief whip, insists the bill still has a lifeline and was not brought in bad faith.

"The bill is brought with good intentions to save government money... There are those who are deliberately misinforming the country. They are quick and loud and have no shame. When you tell government to just drop the bill, you are telling it to wind up," she said.

Nankabirwa also admitted government has a Shs 400 billion backlog for compensation of project-affected persons.

However, DP president general Norbert Mao says government should open its eyes and contemplate fully withdrawing the bill given the resistance it has received from MPs, civil society, religious and traditional leaders.

He said this while appearing on Frontline, a political talk show on NBS TV last Thursday. "Majority of MPs who are young and forward-looking are saying we have a problem. What is the cause whose effect is delays in project implementation? Is the government not just giving a reason which sounds good while hiding the real reason for bringing the law?," he asked.

"The real reason is the lack of sufficient resources to comply with the requirement for prior compensation. Parliament has got committee chairpersons but the most powerful people in parliament are the floor leaders like Nandala- Mafabi, Hamson Obua and the like to present compelling arguments that the solution does not include amendment of the Constitution."

TRIBUNALS?

During the NRM caucus meeting at State House, Entebbe last Wednesday, Denis Hamson Obua mooted a proposal to have special courts or a land tribunal to handle disputes arising from disagreements on compensation. Obua said this can be done through amendment of the Land Acquisition Act 1965.

In the end, the caucus set up a 10-member committee led by Vice President Edward Ssekandi to look into the possibility of amending the Land Acquisition Act to create the tribunals.

When contacted, the attorney general, William Byaruhanga, revealed that the committee will officially start work this week.

The committee will present its report to the NRM caucus in 14 days after which the NRM MPs will decide whether the controversial bill will stay or be withdrawn.

"This is the assignment that was given to the committee. When they come to report, we shall know whether we shall go towards amending the Constitution or the Land Acquisition Act," Nankabirwa said.

Some legislators contend that it will be a miracle if government resuscitates the bill, saying it is on its deathbed. Felix Okot Ogong said the Constitution provides for total protection of citizens in regard to the right to land ownership and any attempt to tinker with Article 26 was bound to face resistance.

Francis Gimara, the president of the Uganda Law Society (ULS), wondered why government would front for land amendments yet it set up the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire commission of inquiry into land matters.

Meanwhile, Professor Ogenga Latigo (Agago) says that for government to avoid stalemates in future, it should find ways of dealing with land speculators who propagate the delayed compensation disputes.

"Put up a law on compensation and ensure that if you are a bonafide landowner, you should have owned it for ten years and more. This will weed out speculators," he said.

CAMPAIGNS AGAINST LAND AMENDMENTS

A number of opposition MPs, led by Winnie Kiiza, the leader of opposition in parliament, are currently traversing different parts of the country preaching against the bill.

With legislators across the political divide fervently vowing to fight the bill; the opposition has since moved to Buganda, West Nile, Acholi, Teso and Bugisu sub-regions de-campaigning the principles of the amendment.

Matthias Mpuuga, who is one of the legislators on the trail, told The Observer on phone that the growing resistance towards the bill should be a precursor to any attempts by government to change the Constitution.

"The NRM caucus position was not one that simply happened but due to public pressure especially from their constituents. The land bill is a good spark for us to rise to more pertinent issues. While we recall that we go around the country to campaign against issues including age limit, the opposition should use this momentum to put pressure on the regime to demand for respect of the Constitution," he said.

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