6 October 2017

Uganda: Masaka District Land Board Chairperson Arrested Over Dubious Land Giveaways

Masaka — Peter Ssenkungu ,the Masaka District land board chairperson was on Thursday evening arrested by Justice Catharine Bamugemereire-led commission of inquiry into land matters after discovering that the land board had irregularly allocated land in wetlands.

The commission discovered that Masaka District land board had allocated over 150 hectares of land at only Shs250,000 on September30, 2014 to Noeline Ndagire, which she later sold to Pastor Samuel Kakande of Synagogue Church of All Nations at over Shs70 million which the commission found irregular.

Another questionable land deal was that of 235 hectares of land in Buwunga Sub -county in Masaka District, which was allocated to the deputy Chief of Defense Forces , Lt. Gen Wilson Mbadi at Shs200,000 which the latter also reportedly sold to Pastor Kakande at Shs80million after a few days.

The commission also heard that the board which Mr Ssenkungu heads allocated land that covers Lake Birinzi, a satellite lake of Lake Victoria to Hajji Muyanja Mbabaali (Bukoto South MP), which the commission also found illegal.

The lead counsel, Mr Ebert Byenkya told the commission that the allocated pieces of land did not have valuation reports which could have guided Ssenkungu about the fair value market prices of the allocated public land which caused a loss of over Shs155 million in several land transactions to the district . However, the district all together earned only Shs450, 000 from the two transactions.

The commission wondered if the Masaka District land board was still relevant when it was causing such losses to the district and abetting environment degradation in the area.

Mr Ssenkungu however, told the commission that they lowered the prices of the land to attract investors because they thought when the lakeshores are developed, they would offer employment opportunities to the locals.

Justice Bamugemereire said the damage and effect of destroying the natural vegetation on over 40 square miles allocated to Pastor Kakande ,will be paid by all generations and the profits got by individuals cannot be used to reverse the damage.

She said Mr Ssenkungu had vital information which he had to share with the commission ,asking the police officers attached to the commission to arrest him to help them with more investigations into the irregular land transactions in Masaka. After interrogation for about one and half hours, Ssenkungu was released and is expected to reappear before the commission on Friday.

Earlier in the day, the commission visited some of the land allocated to Pastor Kakande in Bukakata Sub- County where he is growing rice which is contrary to what was agreed upon in the environment impact assessment report where he was cleared to plant palm oil.

Mr Hood Sseremba, the district land board committee secretary and also acting assistant chief administrative officer admitted that it was an error to giveaway land in wetlands and promised to cancel all the land titles.

"We are going to convene an extra ordinary meeting and reverse the transactions .This means all the land titles issued will also be cancelled because it is illegal to own land in a gazetted wetlands," he said.

Masaka District and Municipal council authorities have in the past six years faced public criticism over illegal parceling out of public land and open spaces to private developers. Some of the properties so far sold off include; the Children's Park, Town Clerk's residence, public cemetery and a host of forest reserves along the shores of Lake Victoria.

In June 2015, the High Court in Masaka issued an injunction suspending the district land board from conducting any transactions on land and property owned or managed by Masaka Municipal council.


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