12 September 2017

Uganda: Legal Hurdles Delay Two-School Model

More than 100 years after it took a stand on learning in Uganda, the Catholic Church is breaking new ground.

As MOSES TALEMWA reports, the church is preparing to set up a model that will embrace both the state-backed universal primary education system and the more private learning format in one compound.

On March 13, 2015, Fr Edward Muwanga, then parish priest at St Charles Lwanga in Ntinda, wrote to the secretary of the Uganda Land Commission, requesting to be allocated the land next to his mission.

The church wanted the land, currently occupied by the community-built Ntinda primary school, to be redeveloped into a new complex. This was after an archdiocesan education meeting, chaired by Archbishop Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga at his offices in Lubaga, had endorsed the plan.

According to the coordinator of the project, Zachariah Isabirye, the archbishop had been moved by a California-based model, in which state and private funding systems work side by side.

"We wanted it to be a model system in our parish, where the children of poor parents would study with their wealthier counterparts, while both benefit from quality learning," Isabirye explained.

"There were many places where this could have been demonstrated, but since it was an idea by St Charles Lwanga parish in Ntinda, we insisted that we look for the land and start on it."

Accordingly, Isabirye, a former teacher, is convinced that the model will work well at Ntinda PS.

"The basic plan will have two school blocks, one for those on the UPE system, and another for those on the private system. However, they will use the same teachers and we expect the academic performance to improve," Isabirye says.

Asked if this will not create a sense of discrimination among the children, Isabirye insists the programme has inbuilt advantages.

"Children adjust very quickly to their surroundings. It will not be hard for them to make friends across both sides of the school," Isabirye says.

"If you look around, Ntinda is changing from a largely residential community; so, this school will host a lot of children from corporate families working here, while those who stay around need to have a good school that they can access."

He explains that they studied the operations of the model for over a year before they decided that they could implement it in Uganda.

"It will be the first, but once it takes off, more people will be happy to embrace it."

CHALLENGES

Following Fr Muwanga's letter, the Uganda Land Commission approved an offer for a lease of five years to the Catholic Church, "extendable for up to 49 years of the said land".

In a September 7, 2015 letter, the Uganda Land Commission also asked the church to obtain a private survey firm to ascertain the details of the land. It was found that the land, measuring 4.5 acres could be used for the development of the land.

"Our plan involved using 2.5 acres of land for the storied buildings, which would accommodate between 2,000 and 3,000 learners, while the rest of the land would be reserved for extra-curricular activities such as a school field and a swimming pool," Isabirye explains.

The following day (September 8, 2015), the commission also informed the ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development about the matter in writing.

On September 9, 2015, the commissioner for Physical Planning at the ministry, James Kagwisa, wrote back indicating that there was no objection to the developments on the land by the church.

However, it would not be until May 20, 2016 before the Uganda Land Commission formally handed over a five-year lease to the registered trustees of Kampala Archdiocese, at annual rent of Shs 5,000.

At this stage, the archbishop also sought and obtained permission from the ministry of Education and Sports to take over the land in Ntinda, in view of redevelopment.

"The management will be well handled under the direction of Kampala Archdiocese Education department and in total conformity with government policy," wrote the archbishop in an October 20, 2016 letter to the ministry's then permanent secretary, Dr Rose Nassali Lukwago.

Almost a month later, on November 14, 2016, the commissioner for Basic Education, Dr Daniel Nkaada, writing on behalf of then permanent secretary, wrote back requesting for particulars on the operations of the model kindergarten and primary school from relevant stakeholders, including the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), the local government authority mandated to run primary schools in the city, and Ntinda residents, among others. Again, the church complied and submitted all requested documentation to the ministry.

PRESIDENTIAL APPROVAL

During this time, the archbishop had also sought and obtained approval of the same model from the president, a keen advocate of affordable education in the country.

"The president was excited about this and offered to support the church in whatever way possible to ensure that the project takes off," Isabirye says, of the meeting held at State House Entebbe in late 2015.

"He requested for a written concept of how the model would work and a seven-page concept was prepared by the archbishop, which the president quickly endorsed."

LEGAL HURDLES

Inexplicably, legal hurdles developed when the church sought approval from the KCCA, the local government authority mandated to run primary schools in the city.

The church had formally sought approval to take over the school in October 2016 from the KCCA executive director, Jennifer Musisi. In her various replies, Musisi expressed her readiness to work with the archbishop on the matter.

All seemed to be going well until a November 9, 2016 letter from KCCA which seemed to challenge the five-year lease obtained by the church.

In her letter, she indicated the KCCA had engaged the Uganda Land Commission over the land since 2014 and subsequently obtained a lease for the Ntinda school land in April 2016, a month before a similar document was offered to the archdiocese.

"By copy hereof, the chairman of the Uganda Land Commission is requested to cause rescission of its purported lease to the registered trustees of Kampala Archdiocese," Musisi wrote on November 8, 2016.

The education ministry permanent secretary Alex Kakooza also formally wrote to the Uganda Land Commission on January 7, 2017, calling for the lease to the church to be rescinded.

Since then, the church has sought further dialogue with KCCA, the Uganda Land Commission and the education ministry on the matter, with the next such engagement expected next month.

Officials at the Uganda Land Commission have declined to comment on the matter, with one official, who insisted on anonymity, saying "the issue is too sensitive, but we will comment officially once it is resolved".

For now, the church, which had set aside Shs 24bn to set up the complex over two years, is stuck in a legal conundrum, but Isabirye and Fr Muwanga are not about to give up.

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