Kampala — The Ministry of Education and Sports and Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) are still puzzled at how they lost one of their government-aided primary schools and its land in Ntinda to St Charles Lwanga Catholic Church.
Daily Monitor has established that the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) gave away Ntinda Primary School land to Kampala Archdiocese under "unclear circumstances" and government's efforts to reclaim it have not yielded fruit.
Ntinda Primary School was started as a community institution by lower-cadre civil servants such as clerks who lived around the area before the then colonial government took over its management in 1954.
Ministry of Education officials, who requested for anonymity, said ULC had earlier approved a 99-year land lease to KCCA to continue managing the school, which has been implementing the government's Universal Primary Education programme since 1997.
However, according to the ministry sources, KCCA later learnt that the school had also been given away to the church without their knowledge.
"We don't know what happened as a ministry. We had secured the lease for Ntinda Primary School and we were still working on the paper work. To our shock, we learnt that the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) had given the lease for the same piece of land to the Catholic Church. We don't understand the motive but we are negotiating," a source said.
The matter is so sensitive that neither officials at the ministry nor at KCCA were willing to share information, insisting they were still negotiating with the relevant bodies.
Since March, Daily Monitor has been seeking audience with the ministry's permanent secretary, Mr Alex Kakooza, but without success. On many occasions, he turned down the appointments and referred us to different subordinate officers.
At one point, he asked this newspaper to interview Ms Jane Nantale, an officer at the ministry who is in-charge of land matters. But Ms Nantale also referred this reporter back to Mr Kakooza.
However, Ms Nantale admitted that the school had been given away to the church despite government having secured lease approval for the land from ULC, the official custodian of public land.
"Issues of school land are complicated. We got approval from the Uganda Land Commission for Ntinda Primary School. I think now it has been given away but we are still negotiating. You need to talk to my boss Mr Kakooza. I cannot share any further information because I do not know your interests," Ms Nantale told Daily Monitor. Mr Kakooza, who at that time said he was in China, then asked us to see Mr Samuel Kakura who too denied us an interview.
On return, the permanent secretary vowed never to give an interview to Daily Monitor over stories that had been published where insiders at the ministry revealed massive corruption, abuse of office, fictitious procurements and embezzlement of public resources.
At KCCA, Ms Juliet Namuddu, the director of education, without giving details, said they will not tire in looking for support to secure all land for city schools that has long been under threat to be taken away.
She said KCCA has sought intervention from the Minister of Education, ULC and Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters and are optimistic Ntinda Primary School will be retained to accommodate children from poor backgrounds.
"We received a lease offer for Ntinda Primary School and then Uganda Land Commission went ahead and also gave a lease offer to the church. We have shared our concerns to our executive director, Ministry of Education and we wrote several times to the Uganda Land Commission," Ms Namuddu said in an interview.
"When I met her worship Justice Bamugemereire, I still made a presentation on the same. We even went to the Minister of Education, the First Lady, and talked about this. We are hoping something is going to be done about that school and it remains a UPE school," she added.
However, the church insists the land belongs to them.
Rev Fr Edward Muwanga, the parish priest of St Charles Lwanga Church Ntinda, told Daily Monitor that they proposed to partner with the ministry of Education to improve standards of the school that has an enrollment of about 800 pupils.
"The land belongs to the church because we received it legally. We are negotiating with the ministry of Education to see how the school can be handed over to the church. The church is seeking a partnership with government to improve the quality of education. This requires a memorandum of understanding so that there is no mistake made," Fr Muwanga said.
He added: "It is a proposal to them to enter a partnership. We are still waiting for their response. We are not intending to put any other business but retain it as a school. We have seen land for many education institutions being given away and turned into hotels and lodges. The church has all good reasons to take charge because it has been a good partner in managing education institutions and many of them are UPE schools."
However, Ms Namuddu insisted the school should remain under government control to guarantee education to low income earners within Ntinda and the neighbourhood.
"The Uganda Land Commission has to withdraw the lease offer that they gave to the church. We may not get all the answers but we are not giving up for the good of the children. Whoever can listen to us, we will talk. We hope that the ULC can correct that anomaly, give us the land title as they had promised and we retain that school," she says.
Documents seen by Daily Monitor show the school sits on 1.8460 hectares and the land title was issued on May 26, 2016 in the names of Registered Trustees of Kampala Archdiocese following a lease request granted by ULC at its meeting on August 13, 2015.
On September 7, 2015, Mr Baker Mugaino, on behalf of the ULC secretary, wrote to the Commissioner for Surveys and Mapping in Entebbe, informing them of the lease offer to Kampala Archdiocese. The lease offer was of five years, extendable to 49 years. Mr Mugaino's letter was copied to the ULC chairperson and Registered Trustees of Kampala Archdiocese.
St Charles Lwanga Church will celebrate its fourth anniversary on September 9 as a parish.
As the church, Fr Muwanga said although they are ready to start the developments at the school, their structural plans they submitted to KCCA for approval were rejected.
"We submitted our plans to KCCA but they rejected them. They have refused to approve the plans saying the land is theirs. We received the title earlier than them. If you have a partner to support you, why don't you allow them? My appeal is that those concerned can see the need and trust us," Fr Muwanga said in an interview.
He said there should not be any suspicion or worry because the church wants to maintain the percentage of UPE children in the school although they will also enroll those who can afford to pay fees.
He said this will be achieved by increasing the school enrolment to 1,500 learners from the current 800 and the funds raised from the paying pupils will supplement those who cannot afford.
Fr Muwanga said once the school is well maintained, parents will be encouraged to trust them with their children instead of driving them to distant schools.
Sources close to this matter said the Education minister, Ms Janet Museveni, chaired a meeting to reconcile the rival parties and harmonise positions. However, no consensus has been reached. The church maintains they own the land and should, therefore, run the school but KCCA insists on retaining ownership and control of both the school and its land.
ULC officials, who preferred anonymity, said it might not be easy to cancel the church's land lease because when it was obtained, it included control of the school.
"The church is stronger than the State in some instances. So when they insist on something, it is better to negotiate them out of it than rely on the law. The problem is not government (ULC). What I know is that KCCA may have owned the school for such a long time but the church is in the neighbourhood now. You can see the developments. The church came in recently but with all the seriousness," the source said.
"You do not expect that the church bribed ULC. Neither do you expect KCCA to have bribed ULC. There are deeper political issues. The church is determined to take that land. KCCA, for all the time it has been running that school, what has it done? Have the times not changed? Doesn't the population increase demand that you put more facilities in that place? Should a school in that affluent area be like that?" the source queried.
Mr Robert Nyombi, the ULC secretary, declined to comment on the status of the school land.
"Is this the case where the Catholic Church is wrangling with KCCA over a school? This matter has been brought to the attention of higher authorities in the country. It is being handled," he said.
Church-founded education schools have remained centres of excellence in the country. Government supports the founding bodies but does not own the schools.