Mbarara — The land probe committee has questioned former Mbarara Municipal Council officials for illegally giving away more than 60 hectares of land belonging to National Forestry Authority (NFA).
The probe team sitting at Ntare School in Mbarara District last week questioned former town clerk David Bashakaara and former mayor Wilson Tumwine over the illegality.
The commission chaired by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire heard that part of forest reserves such as Rwemitongore I and II have been turned into settlements through a scheme by Mbarara town authorities.
"When I came here two years ago, I took over a forest reserve which was a settlement especially in Rwemitingore I and II, they were heavily encroached on with buildings, settlements and roads," the NFA plantation manager, Mr Herbert Kyaligonza, told the commission.
He said Rwemitongore I and II, Ruti and Kamukuzi forest reserves were designated for degazzetment, however, the process was never completed but still part of the land was given to individuals by town leaders.
While explaining their actions, Mr Bashakaara said: "My Lord, the process of getting this land was an emergency so as to have organised development in town. That is why we contacted individuals to facilitate the process."
However, Justice Bamugemereire faulted Mr Bashakaara for championing grabbing of NFA land.
"You started a scheme where the forest is degraded, titles given before degazettment, this puts you in a rather awkward position. You started a process that has spiraled into a mess," she said.
Mr Tumwwine was accused of collecting money from individuals for the degazzetment and selling part of forestry land in Rwemitonogore III.
Mr Tumwine, however, said Shs190 million out of Shs240m he had collected was paid back.
But Justice Bamugyemereire faulted him for leaving the debt burden to the current regime.
Mr Kyaligonza was detained for shielding encroachers after failing to identify the encroachers even when these contested lands remain under NFA and failed to interpret the maps of forests under his jurisdiction.