Masaka — Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Masaka District have protested a move by the district authorities to relocate some offices to their premises.
The PWDs said the district authorities took the decision to relocate the offices to Kijjabwemi Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre, without seeking their permission.
This comes days after several district departments, including the office of the chief administration officer, health and education departments, were evicted from Buganda Kingdom buildings at Ssaza Village over non-payment of nominal ground rent amounting to more than Shs1b.
"We are smelling a rat in this whole thing [of relocating offices]. The district authorities could be using this as a ploy to takeover our premises since they earlier refused to hand over a land title to us," Mr Ronald Mutebi, the chairperson of old students of Kijjabwemi Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre, said in an interview on Friday.
Mr Mutebi wondered why the district leaders chose Kijjabwemi Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre yet they had abandoned it.
"Kijjabwemi Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre is the only place in Masaka where PWDs can go and learn hands-on skills. We cannot just let it go. Let them find office space elsewhere," he added.
In a March 22 letter addressed to the district, Buganda Kingdom accused the leaders of deliberately failing to formalise their tenancy so that they continue occupying the kingdom buildings.
Despite leaving the kingdom buildings, the district still has to pay outstanding nominal ground rent arrears, according to Mr Magellan Kazibwe, a lawyer of Namulondo Investments Ltd, the business arm of Buganda Kingdom.
"We are having a meeting with them [Masaka District officials ] on April 26 and in any way they have to accept all the terms and conditions that will be given to them," Mr Kazibwe said.
Mr Peterson Kiryowa, a PWD, said if the district authorities try to forcefully occupy the premises, they will buy padlocks and lock them from outside.
"It is the old boys and stake holders of the vocational school who are taking care of students by providing food and other necessities. What do the district leaders want? What have they done?" he asked.
However, the Masaka District community development officer, Ms Lillian Musisi, said the district has no hidden agenda in occupying the rehabilitation centre buildings .
"We shall only occupy the guest house wing because that vocational school belongs to us, there is no way persons with disabilities can say we are stealing the property yet it's us who lobbied for funds to set up that centre," Ms Musisi.
Ms Musisi said some leaders of PWDs in the area wanted to grab part of Kijjabwemi Vocational and Rehabilitation Centre land and this could be the reason why they do not want some district departments to be housed at the premises.
"We thought of renting out the guesthouse to other people and we get money out of it, but it is not necessary since the money is little," she added.
Mr Paul Kabugo, the Masaka assistant chief administration officer, said they are going to temporarily occupy the centre as they look for funds to construct permanent offices.
"The district currently lacks funds since our revenue was affected two years ago when the army closed landing sites, which were a major source of revenue for the district," he said.
However, Masaka Resident District Commissioner, Mr Herman Ssentongo, has since advised the district to find another place where to house the affected departments and avoid antagonising PWDs.
"I am not going to allow the district to takeover that centre. It is good that the PWDs have brought up all the issues which the district leaders had not shared with me," Mr Ssentongo said.
Masaka is one of the areas that were demarcated into other districts in 1966. Originally, it comprised of Rakai, Kalangala, Sembabule, Bukomansimbi, Kalungu and Lwengo, making it one of the largest districts in Uganda .
Currently, more than 15 sub-counties in Masaka sub-region are still occupying Buganda Kingdom buildings and many lack funds to construct their headquarters.
A couple of months ago, authorities in the neigbouring Kalungu District were also given a 30-day ultimatum to vacate the kingdom buildings after failing to pay nominal ground rent amounting to Shs281.2m.