The Uganda Police Force has given opposition Members of Parliament a go ahead to hold consultative meetings across the country on the Constitutional Amendment Bill on condition that they do not speak about removal of presidential age limit.

 

The opposition led by Leader of Opposition Winnie Kiiza revealed that they are planning traverse to all parts of Uganda seeking views of Ugandans on the proposed amendments to article 26 of the Land Act to enable swift acquisition of private land for public use.

 

According to Erasmus Twarukukwa the director Human rights and legal services at Uganda Police, police yesterday had a fruitful meeting with opposition members led by Chief Whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda where it was resolved that notification to police about the 18thAugust consultative meeting be sent in time to enable police prepare adequately.

 

He said that it has been resolved that the consultative meeting sticks on the agenda.

According to their program they plan to start with Masaka, Kampala, Wakiso and others later areas.

The new proposed amendments to the Land law  seeks to provide for compulsory acquisition of land for government development projects such as roads and other infrastructure have sparked outrage, with sections of Ugandans now accusing the government of trying to grab their land.

 

However, the proposals have generated nationwide debate and jitters alike, with the move being interpreted as a manoeuver that will fuel land grabbing and evictions in the country.

Lands minister Betty Amongi  revealed that the proposed amendments were premised on the bureaucratic tendencies involved in compensation of the project-affected persons, which tend to stall projects.

Why the ammendments

The amendments, Ms Amongi revealed, are intended to shorten the processes involved by allowing government to start the projects pending negotiations on compensations with the affected persons. She said she will soon table the amendments in Parliament. The minister is expected to address a press conference today on the same matter.

 

According to Article 273 of the Constitution, all land in Uganda belongs to the people. Article 26(2) stipulates that: “No person shall be compulsorily deprived of property or any interest in right over property of any description except where taking possession is necessary for public use and, or, is made under the law after prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation.

 

However, different stakeholders sounded out by this newspaper questioned government’s motives to change the current laws to alter the land tenure system.

 

The current Land Acquisition Act, 1965 (sec) 226, which govern the compulsory acquisition of land for public purposes, according to John Murungi, an advocacy manager in Fort Portal, has always been very clear.

“It has been succinctly providing the circumstances under which land can be acquired and the compensation accruing thereof. Any shift from it would be a human rights violation of depriving people of their source of livelihood,” he said.

However, sections of the Lands Acquisition Act, which was last amended in 1970, were nullified by the Supreme Court in 2014. The court upheld in 2014 that whereas Article 26 was not among the non-derogable rights, this does not give powers to government to compulsorily acquire people’s land without prior payment, and that such planned government projects do not fall under the exceptions of disasters and emergences.

For that matter, the government has had to bear the ache of forking out billions to compensate people for their land, a practice they are trying to circumvent by reinventing the wheel.

The Uganda National Roads Authority has for example, since June last year, doled out Shs116 billion in compensations. Another close to Shs100 billion has been spent on compensating people and resettling others to pave way for the proposed Greenfield Oil Refinery in Hoima, in Western Uganda, a process that has seen some illegal evictions and takeover of some land by well-connected individuals, among other projects.

Mr Dan Okello, the Lira District chairman, said government already owns large chunks of land in forest reserves, national parks and swamps.

“If the land owners refuse, the government has nothing to do. But in areas where minerals are found, the land owners should be compensated – the owners of such land are entitled to royalties.”

By trying to go back to the drawing board, the big question that remains unanswered is whether government can balance both its interests as the custodian of the land and the people, the owners of the land.

Contentious issue

Land is a very sensitive issue in Uganda and has in the recent past been a subject of conflicts in various parts of the country.

A proposed move by President Museveni to give at least one-quarter of Mabira Central Forest Reserve to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Ltd (SCOUL) in 2007, sparked protests around the central region.

Much of this Mabira forest is public land but President Museveni’s neoliberal logic that what is good for business is good for the country, was interpreted widely as a ploy to give away prime land to sugarcane growing.

Amuru District in northern Uganda most recently also experienced apprehension over development of a sugar factory, which sits on 15,000 acres of land.

These major land give-aways by government, coupled with hundreds of evictions by private investors, have all been central in generating opposition against the proposed land amendment, which is still on paper.