Kampala — A consulting firm has been accused of aiding the degradation of wetlands and forest reserves in the country.
M/s New Plan group, a firm contracted by government officials through the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL), valued environmentally sensitive areas and helped private individuals and companies to acquire about 600 land titles in forests and wetlands.
The Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters yesterday heard that politically connected individuals and private companies would later use the titles in question to claim compensation from government.
The beneficiaries targeted the construction of Mutundwe-Entebbe power line and Namanve-Luzira power line that run through Namanve Central Forest Reserve and Bukasa Wetland.
Some of the beneficiaries in the valuation report to the land probe include Logic Real Estate and Developments owned by businessman Ephraim Ntaganda, his brother Cedric Nsongoza, High Court Judge Joseph Murangira, Emmanuel Gasana, Hood Ssemuga, Barbara Nalubega, Martin Kulaigye, Godfrey Kabogoza and Ismail Kijjambu.
Others with land titles in protected areas are former minister of State for Economic Monitoring Henry Banyenzaki, who owns Miami Beach in Luzira and businessmen Hassan Basajjabalaba.
Some of the disputed titles were issued in Mugomba and Gunda Central Forest Reserves, Nambigirwa Wetland and part of Lake Victoria shores in Wakiso District.
The commission also heard that M/s New Plan Group recommended payment of billions of shillings in compensation for land belonging to government.
It is alleged that these land titles were issued in October 2014, months after the expiry of the valuation schedule and later superimposed onto the strip map for the corridor earmarked for the construction of the power line.
UETCL petitioned the commission claiming that the construction of the electricity transmission lines had stalled due to fictitious claims for compensation by the purported developers who illegally acquired land titles in protected areas.
The power transmission lines are meant to distribute electricity to the various industrial parks from the newly constructed Isimba and Karuma dams in Kayunga and Kiryandongo districts respectively.
It is alleged that at least 600 land titles were fraudulently issued to various companies and individual proprietors.
The managing director of New Plan Group, Mr Lawrence Levy Omulen, yesterday confessed before the commission that his firm assigned the values to contested pieces of land but blamed the glitch on UETCL officials.
Mr Omulen, who was tasked to explain the criteria used and basis for valuation of protected areas and failure to adhere to the laws governing natural resources, testified that the titles were presented to UETCL which in turn presented the titles to the consulting team.
"They (claimants) presented their titles to UETCL officials who in turn asked us to include them in the report," said Mr Omulen. He added that they have recommended non-payment of the claimants amid accusations of flouting of the terms of reference on cut-off date, failure to advise their clients and collusion to defraud government.
Mr Omulen admitted that they superimposed the plots on the strip map. "Whoever issued the land titles should be held liable...Ours was to superimpose them on the map... .We were asked to assign a value to the plots but upon valuation we attached a caveat not to pay," he said.