25 September 2017

Uganda: Behind Museveni Land Tour Confusion

Photo: The Monitor
President Yoweri Museveni appearing on a radio talk-show

Kampala — President Yoweri Museveni's countrywide tour that he says is aimed at defusing what he called "toxic" information about the Land Amendment Bill before Parliament has run into trouble with experts and opposition politicians.

Edmond Owor, the executive director of the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) told The Independent that the President's tour "is not only irrelevant, it is also suspect."

Owor told The Independent that the President should instead be looking critically at some of the people who have been behind the compensation fights that have led to delays in some infrastructure projects.

"It is the politicians and the technocrats in government who already know where these projects are going to pass who go evicting people off the land expecting big moneys," he says, "It is just about Museveni dealing with these people in his government."

Judy Adoko, the executive director of the Land and Equity Movement in Uganda (LEMU), a national land rights advocacy organisation also told The Independent on Sept. 14 that "the President is wasting his time because Ugandans are in agreement on land: In a paper published on her NGO's website on July 15, this year, Adoko recommended to MPs not to amend Article 26.

Adoko noted in her paper that compulsory acquisition of land should always be a last resort, and always be subject to checks and balances on state power to ensure that citizens are protected. She urged the government to either amend the Land Acquisition Act or enact a new law to operationalize the procedure for implementation of Article 26 of the Constitution.

President Museveni on Sept.04 embarked on what he said was a countrywide tour aimed at defusing what he called "toxic" information about the Land Amendment Bill tabled in Parliament in July.

Dr. Julius Kiiza, a lecturer of political economy and public policy at Makerere University told The Independent that since it is not in dispute that Museveni has faced stiff resistance on the land issue, the question should be why he has very keen interest in amending the Article on compulsory land acquisition in the Constitution.

"The land article could be synchronized with Article 102 (b) because they are both a means to a Presidential monarch," he said.

Kiiza says Museveni would have found the land issue as easy as the previous contentious issues that he dealt with only that this time people cannot relinquish the only thing that is a source of their livelihood.

"People do not have alternatives," he says, "They would have let him have his way as usual if they were employed in the services sector or involved in other modes of business but a scenario where about 70% of the population directly depends on land for survival makes tampering with land very dangerous."

Wilfred Niwagaba, the MP for Ndorwa East who also doubles as the Shadow Attorney General told The Independent that the land issue is at the heart of Museveni's desire to stay in power.

"He has always wanted to build a monarchy; you know he calls himself the Ssabagabe (the king of kings) and he cannot be the Ssabagabe without having full control over land."

Niwagaba says Museveni wants to have full control of land and add it to his tools of patronage so he can give it at will.

Godber Tumushabe, the Associate Director of the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS), a Kampala-based independent think tank says it is noteworthy that Museveni decided to move around the country giving talk shows while his cadres; the presidential advisors and Resident District Commissioners, took a backseat.

Niwagaba says this shows that Museveni's tour is "definitely not about land."

Niwagaba said the people Museveni has been talking to are not the ones that will make the laws he wants unless he wants to subject the issue to a referendum. He said all indicators are that he is already campaigning for 2021 with impunity.

"He pays one radio station in the area but forces all the other radio stations to stop their programmes and air his campaign," Niwagaba said, "So these people interrupt their programmes and their commercials to air a programme that is not paid for."

"He doesn't even allow free debate to get people's concerns on the issue. His handlers stage-manage callers and the station is forced to use unknown numbers where only the people agreed upon call and praise Museveni and of course plead that he stands again in 2021."

Niwagaba told The Independent that Museveni has been meeting the NRM leaders in the towns where he has been holding the radio talk shows asking them about the politics of the area and what people think about the age limit removal issue.

Niwagaba also wondered whether Museveni is the one supposed to be doing what he did. "What for example, does Museveni want to say about the land issue that the Land Ministry or Attorney General cannot say?

"Better still, since he is already forcing radio stations to air these programmes, why doesn't he go on Radio Uganda (UBC radio) and direct the rest of the stations to air? Why does he have to go around the country to do that?"

It's the age limit not land

Part of the frustration among experts could be that nobody really knows why Museveni has undertaken what on face value is a wild goose chase.

Part of the confusion around Museveni's tour is that most of the infrastructure projects are funded by international financial institutions, including the World Bank and the African Development Bank, which require Resettlement Action Plans (RAPs) and have clear guidelines on compensation of Project Affected Persons (PAPs).

The government is often required to foot the compensation bill as part of its so-called counterpart funding. Many government projects stall because of either delay or failure by the government to put-up the necessary counterpart funding. Although it is often only a small percentage of required monies, the sums are quite substantial.

For example, the planned Kampala-Malaba standard gauge railway project requires the government to fork-out US$345 million. Although that is just 15% of the US$2.5 billion price tag, it is a huge chunk of the national budget. The US$150 million upgrade to tarmac of the Kigumba-Masindi-Hoima-Kabwoya road requires only 4% of the price tag as counterpart funding. But that is Shs12 billion and the government has not fully cleared it.

Over time, therefore, the government has created financing reservoirs called "funds" to cater for counterpart funding needs of different sectors. These include the Road Fund, Energy Fund, Petroleum Fund and others.

However, by June this year, Matia Kasaija, the Minister of Finance confirmed to journalists that the funds "are empty". It now appears that Museveni is seeking to circumvent this requirement.

In July, the government tabled the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 seeking to amend Article 26 (2) to allow compulsory acquisition of land by removing hurdles to compensation which it claims have been a major hindrance to infrastructure development.

The Bill seeks to amend Article 26 of the Constitution which provides for the right of citizens to own property and shows how the government can acquire land with fair and adequate compensation.

Earlier, however, Museveni's critics in civil society, religious bodies and Members of the opposition parties in Parliament claimed he was on ruse to galvanise support for his well-orchestrated ploy to remove the presidential age limit clause from the Constitution.

They pointed at a number of "mini" tours that Museveni went on before he went to the countryside. He visited parts of Wakiso and Kampala districts and, in what has become his usual style, he doled out millions of shillings, first to Katwe Welders' SACCO in Kampala (Shs 275 million) and Shs.100 million to members of a market SACCO in Zana, a township along Entebbe Road, and another Shs100 million to the Bwebajja Fruits Sellers' SACCO. In the northern Kampala division of Kawempe, he visited and promised to return and meet them "for development purposes."

Inflated compensation claims

As he launched his tour with a talk show on Voice of Kigezi in the southwestern town of Kabale, the President told his listeners that amending Article 26 of the 1995 Constitution is not intended to steal people's land but to speed up government projects that have been stalling as a result of court cases arising from compensation disputes. The next day, Sept. 5, Museveni told the people of Mbarara that his government wants to change the law for public interest.

"We need to construct roads, the railway and electricity," Museveni told listeners of Vision FM radio in Mbarara.

"When we make the road to Lyantonde or the Bypass here in Mbarara town, Museveni does not have any shares in it. It is for everyone's benefit," he said.

Museveni is aware that even when corruption is not directly named, in some cases projects simply fail to take off because of sloppiness of government workers involved, leading to what is technically called poor absorption of funds. In September 2016, the World Bank, which lends Uganda up to US$200 million annually on average, froze further lending to Uganda over low absorption of funds.

He has also mentioned the inflated compensation claims are part of the problems. While in Mubende, he condemned people who make fake and exorbitant claims as compensation for their pieces of land that the government wants to acquire to pave way for infrastructure development programmes.

There is, however, wide disappointment that he has neither named nor acted against any top government official, including within his Cabinet, who have taken huge compensation cheques from the government either personally or through proxies.

Even when Betty Amongi, the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development whose ministry is heavily involved in finding the land for government projects, cited infrastructure projects that she said were running behind schedule and have caused the government astronomical losses due to delayed land compensations to project-affected persons, she appears to have picked the bare bones and not the meat list.

Amongi recently told a group of civil society from Uganda and Tanzania at a conference held in Entebbe on the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline that she had been tasked by the government to find land for the pipeline by the middle of 2018.

In order to promptly find this land, Amongi said, her ministry has been working frantically on modalities to guide her to ensure that that land is acquired by the set deadline. Among those modalities is an enabling law, she said.

She said in just two financial years, 2016/17 and 2017/18, 50 big infrastructure projects have stalled and cost the government Shs 350 billion but she did not list them all.

Among the only "selfish and greedy" persons Museveni named was one Charles Kahirwa of Ntungamo district in south western Uganda who demanded for Shs.1.2 billion for one acre of land as compensation during the planned building of an electricity transmission line.

Museveni said if Kahirwa's claim had been paid, the taxpayer would be compelled to pay Shs. 787 billion in that power project. That money, the president said, is enough to extend the power grid to all the Sub- Counties in the country that have no electricity supply yet.

While commissioning the Kamwenge--Fort Portal road on Sept. 7, Museveni noted that the road works got stalled when another man called Kasangwa wanted a billion shillings for a quarter an acre yet the piece of land had been valued at Shs 89 million. The contractor eventually changed the course of the road.

Interestingly, Museveni said that during the survey for the Mpigi-Kanoni-Kabulasoke-Maddu-Ssemabule-Masaka road, the government acquired 21 acres of his land in Gomba for only Shs 69 million, saying he accepted the money because he knew the road would be of use to him.

Museveni says the government cannot allow this state of affairs to continue and in order to end these delays, the amendment says the government will deposit compensation money, as assessed and arrived at by the Government Valuer--in a Court where the property owner can access it even as they pursue their claim for money.

"Those who are rising in arms against the amendment are mere thieves, corrupt, enemies of Uganda who are just frustrating government programmes and must be exposed," he said, while speaking on Voice of Tooro in Fort Portal on Sept.6.

"These are greedy parasites that are paralyzing government programmes by demanding exorbitant compensations," he said.

Museveni said if the 68% of the Ugandan population that is said to be engaged in subsistence farming is to join the monetary economy; the government has to build roads, the railway and supply electricity to create more employment opportunities.

But Museveni's opponents argue that if land is acquired before compensation, the owner may not get proportionate payment from the government. Buganda's King Ronald Muwenda Mutebi recently said the proposed Constitution amendment is a "pain" as it threatens the existence of future generations. Mutebi who is one of the biggest land owners in the country said details of the bill are still hazy for him.

Mutebi reiterated his stance on the bill while opening the 25th Buganda Lukiiko at Bulange-Mengo saying that infrastructure development on private land should only take off after agreement between the government and land owners.

Owor says it is unfortunate that Uganda has had land laws which are being implemented at only 10% yet if these same laws were to be implemented at say, 50%, "Ugandans would not be hearing the noises they are hearing now."

Among the slew of legal documents that must be considered during any compensation are the Uganda Constitution (1995), the Local Government Act 1997, the Land Act, 1998, the Physical Planning Act, 2010, the Valuation Act 1965, the Access to Roads Act (1996), the Land Acquisition Act (1965), the Land Regulation Act (2004), the Land Act (Amendment) (2010) and more. Different departments also have internal Land Acquisition Manuals (LAMs). So it is unclear what point Museveni hopes to score with the controversial amendment he is peddling.

So Owor says if the president has no other motives for Uganda's land he should wait for the views of Ugandans and for the Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire's Land Inquiry to finish its work.

"A commission of Inquiry on Land is going on and even if the country has so far been shocked by the obscenities unearthed so far, that is just the tip of the iceberg," he says, "There is simply too much rot in the land sector."

Meanwhile, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda has also intervened in the current debate saying there is need for a referendum before any amendment of Article 102 (b) of the Constitution that seeks to lift the age limit is done.

Speaking at a press conference on Sept.18 in Kampala, the religious leaders said the age limit debate is an issue which is beyond partisan politics and citizens with contrary views must be listened to before any amendments are considered.


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