Uganda: Land Probe Wants Tax On Idle Land

The Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters has called for a tax on large tracts of privately-owned idle land across the country in order to encourage its productive use.

The tax is among several proposals, including a cap on how much public land individuals can own, to make land ownership more equitable, management more transparent and transactions less corrupt.

"In a developing country aspiring to achieve middle-income status, it is deemed necessary to devise strategies to induce owners of such idle unutilised land to put it to productive use," the Commission said in a statement issued after it handed its final report to the President on Wednesday at State House Entebbe.

"There are direct benefits and spill overs realisable from unlocking idle land by putting it to productive use."

The seven-member team led by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire said the proposed tax could vary based on the location of the land, the national soil map, weather patterns, crucial information and land use zoning.

"Taxation of land should be only for idle private land above the threshold of half a square mile (320 acres)," noted the Commission. There should be a covenant on title intimating that land will be taxed. The tax revenue should be applied to the Land Fund to facilitate redistribution of land."

Individuals and organisations applying to take over public land would also be subjected to a cap of half a square mile, if the proposals are adopted. Requests for bigger chunks of land would be subjected to a two-stage approval process involving the Uganda Land Services Bureau (ULSB) board and then the Cabinet.

"The commission noted large chunks of land across the country that lie idle and unutilised. There is need to regulate the limit of land one can possess at a given time in order to bring about an equitable distribution of land, especially in rural areas to serve the common good," it noted.

The report was submitted after several extensions and following drawn-out public hearings that often exposed rot and inequity in the country's lands sector. The Commission described land disputes across the country as a "pandemic" in which wealthy people irregularly obtained titles to land, including by bribery, falsifying documents, misrepresentation and threats of violence.

"There is a grand and bureaucratic corruption coupled with impunity, in which the land grabbers are syndicated in a public-private illegitimate land dealership," the commissioners noted.

"Peri-urban land and large expanses of rural land constituting villages of poor households are often taken over without following the legitimate eviction procedures."

According to the statement, land disputes often turn violent as evictees attempt to resist removal from land they consider theirs.

The inquiry recommends legal reforms to cut the "excessive powers, discretion and immunities" of the Chief Government Valuer and the Commissioner for Land Registration.

This, they say, will save public finances spent in compensation to people wrongly deprived of their land, as well as end the irregular issuance of private land titles on public land and protected conservation areas.

The report also urges government to fast-track the review and amendment of laws governing land surveys in light of technological changes, and to provide for heavy sanctions against unregistered and unprofessional land surveyors.

It calls for a "complete overhaul" of the legal framework governing land acquisition, including a repeal of the Land Acquisition Act 1965, Assets of Departed Asians Act and the Expropriated Properties Act of 1983.

The Commission also recommends all customary land to be registrable to give security of tenure to users, minimise disputes and encourage its optimal use leading to economic development.

It recommends the introduction of customary freehold titles to be issued alongside Mailo tenure and freehold tenure titles.

In addition, the Commission proposes to move adjudication of land disputes away from the regular courts to a new Land and Environment Court, district land tribunals, as well as a new office of a land ombudsman.

"It is recommended to establish a Land and Environment Court which shall have circuits in all of the regions in the country. The Land and Environment court shall entertain appeals from district land tribunals, as well as have original jurisdiction in environmental matters and land acquisition compensation," reads the statement.

The land ombudsman is expected to be similar to the Inspectorate of Government as a civil and criminal investigative, prosecutorial, injunctive institution addressing land matters and land disputes.

What they say

Luyimbazi Nalukoola, Lawyer: If implemented, the Bamugemereire recommendations will put Uganda in conflict with the US government, UK and others that subscribe to capitalism. The element of limiting the amount of land to be possessed by individuals is a communist ideology. On registration of customary land, it is tricky because close to 90 per cent of the entire land is not registered and owned communally, especially in rural areas.

Pastor Daniel Walugembe, Real estate dealer: Those recommendations are their personal views but unfair because you cannot order a person who owned their land rightly acquired. A person can only lose land upon negotiation and fair compensation. All their recommendations shall go through Parliament for debate and finally approved by the President.

Ibrahim Ssemujju, MP Kira Municipality: The land probe is serving a mission that President Museveni he wanted to achieve for government to be in charge of land such that he can give land to whoever he wants. That is something he wanted to achieve since 1980 to date through many approaches. Land is like any other property such as a kraal of cattle but more so it is a tradition. I am disappointed but not surprised with the report because that is what it is supposed to achieve. Who said land is idle and what is the meaning of 'idle' because land grows in value like money in the bank. You cannot tax peoples' land.

More From: Monitor

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 900 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.