Uganda: MPs Question Custodian Board Officials On Repossessed Land

Members of Parliament on the taskforce investigating the dubious acquisition and repossession of Departed Asians' Properties yesterday interrogated officials from the Departed Asians Properties' Custodian Board (DAPCB) for giving away land that was already repossessed by its former owners.

Asians were expelled by President Idi Amin in 1972. However, those whose properties were never compensated by government in the process of 1976, were free to return and repossess them by October 1993.

The MPs on the Committee of Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) taskforce chaired by Mr Ibrahim Kasozi (Makindye East) yesterday heard that in 2018, the custodian board gave the 200-acre land on Block 35 Plot 8 and 12 Nkoko Estate in Mukono District to businessman Tabu Egesa.

At the time the land was being occupied by seven people led by Mr Geoffrey Mukiibi, who had attained a title on the land after the former custodian board executive secretary, Mr Sam Mule, had written back, saying the estate was not expropriated.

"The custodian board executive secretary then told us the land was not in their records. He said they would call us when they realise it is their land. We then went to Mukono District Land Board which asked us to pay and we got a title," Mr Mukiibi said.

He said it was to their dismay in 2018 after cultivating the land for five years that the custodian board told them the land was under its management and Mr Egesa was introduced to them as the owner.

Their land title was cancelled after Mr Egesa took over the estate.

When the MPs perused the file of the property, it was realised that the land was repossessed by the owners, and it needed not be issued with another land title or allocated to another person.

But when the MPs asked the custodian board officials to explain the fate of the property that had a freehold lease granted to an Asian family exiled in Canada, they said it was found that the repossession was done illegally.

Mr George William Bizibu, the executive secretary of the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board, said the repossession was not completed because the owners were represented by the agents who never returned.

"Our action depended on issuance of a title by Mukono District Land Board. This indicated that there was something very fishy. In 2018, we asked the repossessors to show evidence that they were here physically operating (on the estate). So we made a temporary allocation of the land to Tabu Egesa," Mr Bizibu said.

But MPs asked Mr Bizibu to explain how the custodian board continued to have interest on the property even after the former owners completed the repossession process.

"Why are you taking this committee for granted? You have always told this committee that other properties whose repossession certificates were picked by agents were rightly repossessed. Why shift goal posts on this property?" Mr Kasozi asked.

Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko said: "You agree that the Minister (of Finance) had already dealt in this property. And you can't act twice because the repossession certificate was picked. So what are you talking about?"

Mr Bizibu said the cancellation of the title of the seven cultivators and allocating the land to Mr Egesa was orchestrated by the divesture committee which visited the locus and made a report.

Ms Irene Julu, a member of the custodian board's divestiture committee, said a decision was taken after Mr Egesa, who was not present in Parliament, went to the board asking to be allocated a vacant land.

Mr Kasozi said the narrative submitted earlier by the board shows that the decision to cancel the title and allocate the land to Mr Egesa was done in a "hurry because all was done within three days".

The officials said they cancel the title before filing a matter in court to issue an order to that effect.

The repossessors of the land have not returned to the country but the MPs said there is information that they have interest in coming back to develop it.

Next hearing

The matter was adjourned to August 27 when the taskforce will have carried out further consultation about what could be the fate for the land whose proprietors never returned after repossession and assessing the legality of the reallocation made by the board.

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