13 January 2019

Uganda: Govt Resolves to Cancel Land Titles in Masaka Wetlands

The State Minister for Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Dr Chris Baryomunsi has said government has resolved to cancel all land titles that were issued to developers in protected areas in Masaka Sub-region.

According to the minister, a government statement will soon be issued officially informing individuals that their land titles in wetlands, along lake shores and forests have been cancelled.

"All individuals with land titles in protected areas are put notice and no one will be spared," Dr Baryomunsi said

The minister made the revelation over the weekend during a meeting to assess the performance of Lands Ministry Zonal office at Ssaza Village in Masaka Municipality.

The meeting was attended by all stake holders including; Masaka Resident District Commissioner Mr Herman Ssentongo, district officials; Masaka lands zonal officers and business people among others.

Dr Baryomunsi said cancelation of land titles in protected areas will be extended to all regions across Uganda later this year.

"We are undertaking several strategic actions to implement a Cabinet directive aimed at curbing environment degradation across Uganda," he said.

The minister's pronouncement comes barely two months after authorities in Masaka halted all activities taking place in wetlands, forests and other water catchment areas.

The most depleted wetlands include; Nakayiba in Nyendo, a Masaka Town suburb and Nabajjuzi on the Masaka-Mbarara Highway. Nakayiba wetland is particularly polluted by wastes from car garages around Nyendo Town.

Nakayiba wetland forms part of Nabajjuzi wetland system, which is a tributary of Katonga River basin that drains into Lake Victoria.

Masaka District Chairperson, Mr Jude Mbabaali informed the minister that Lake Birinzi, a satellite lake of Lake Victoria in Masaka is being claimed by Bukoto South MP Hajj Muhammad Muyanja Mbabaali who also possess a land title.

"I am sure the MP [Hajj Mbabaali] illegally acquired the land title and has since fenced off the lake, preventing fishermen and other residents from accessing it," he said.

Mr Mbabaali further noted that "Isought the Permanent Secretary's assistance to cancel the title last year, but I have received no response since then."

But when contacted yesterday, Mr Mbabaali said he legally acquired the 640 acres around Lake Birizi in 1998 before it was gazetted. He said he plans to set up an ice processing plant, fish farm, hotel and beach valued at Shs12b on the disputed lake.

"That place is privately owned. It had a small water body which kept expanding but if government wants to take it, let them compensate me," he said.

During the meeting, the Minister tasked the Masaka Senior Registrar of titles, Mr Ali Wamala to explain why he issued titles in protected areas but the latter said such land titles were issued long time ago before he assumed office.

"Honourable minister, I am aware of the mistake made to give out land titles in protected areas, but it is not my responsibility to cancel them. My role is to investigate and make a report which I forward to the

Commission [Uganda Land Commission] and I want to inform you that I made a report on contested land titles. I am waiting for a response from my bosses," Mr Wamala told the Minister.

Early last year, President Museveni said government had embarked on a long term strategy to recover, restore and protect all protected areas in the country.

Dr Baryomunsi said corruption among Lands Ministry staff is a major challenge because most of them are given huge amount of money to issue illegal titles.

He also said that most of the illegal land titles were issued before digitalization of land registration was rolled out.

"Now that an atlas was created, all wetlands, lakes and forests which belong to government were entered into the computerized system and it is now hard for anyone to claim ownership because the system rebuffs it," Dr Baryomunsi said.

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