Friday August 26 2011

Mr President, land is our most precious asset

By J.L. Okello Okello

Mr President, on July 28, you hosted members of the Uganda National Teachers Union at State House, Entebbe, to try and persuade them to call off their proposed strike. You mentioned my name (Okello-Okello) as being partly responsible for the current shortage of sugar in the country, because according to you, I stopped you from getting land in Amuru for growing sugarcane.

While talking on Bukedde TV on August 5, you blamed members of the Opposition from Acholi in the 8th Parliament, for denying you an opportunity to acquire land in Amuru for sugar production. I was the leader of that group. Again on August 12, you repeated the same statement while addressing district officials and agriculturalists at State House, Entebbe.
While I do not know your intention, agenda and mission in mentioning my name each time you address the public on the current economic crisis, I find myself compelled to respond to protect my name and integrity.

It is unfortunate that you seem to have gone out of your way to hoodwink Ugandans and make them believe that the current economic crisis is only about sugar shortage. Far from it! 84 per cent of Ugandans, who live in the countryside, wallowing in abject poverty, do not need sugar. They cannot afford it. The economic crisis demands deep thinking to find lasting solutions. Knee-jerk gimmicks, which seem to be common practice in your regime, do not help in any way. A serious government would have addressed the pump-price of fuel already. For this is key to the cost of living.

You should know from your advisors that Uganda has no comparative advantage in producing sugar. The unit cost of production is far too high. The world retail price of sugar has jumped to an equivalent of about Shs2,000 per kg recently due to the world economic crisis. Uganda would, therefore, be much better off importing sugar instead of grabbing other people’s land to produce sugar they cannot afford to buy.

Both the Constitution and the Land Act,1998, are very clear on the ownership of land in this country. The Head of State has no role to play in land transactions, because no title is vested in him. You cannot, therefore, give away any parcel of land to an investor and pass good title to the recipient. You have no good title vested in you by any law or instrument.

It is true, in the 8th Parliament, I was the Chair of Acholi Parliamentary Group (APG). In that capacity, I went to Amuru (and Nwoya now) many times with my colleagues to sensitise the people about their rights over their land. The decision to take the Madhvani Group to court was taken by the people of Amuru themselves. As leaders, we had to spearhead the struggle by our people to protect their rights. We still do. Mr President, this case is still before court. And for you to order that it must be resolved within three (3) months, worries me a lot.

The truth of the matter is that even if Scoul had acquired part of Mabira Forest in 2007 and the Madhvani Group had also acquired land in Amuru in 2008, sugar from these two areas would not yet be on the market today. So they would have nothing to do with the current sugar shortage. It, therefore, appears to me, Sir, that you are speaking from a very uninformed position. Your determination to give away part of Mabira Forest is a catastrophic error of judgement, which must not be allowed to succeed.

My advice to you, Sir, is that you should frontally face the many problems we have in this country and make attempts to solve them. Your job is well cut out. Passing the buck, which has for a long time been your escape route, can no longer work. It must stop, because it ridicules you in the eyes of right thinking members of society. Everyone knows that the buck ends with you. Period.

Mr President, let me illustrate to you how much the Shilling has actually fallen in value under your regime. In 1987 when you imposed a currency reform on Ugandans, the exchange rate was Shs1,400 to one United States Dollar. You knocked off two zeros from the exchange rate and lumped a tax of 30 per cent on the balance of everybody’s money. No accountability for the proceeds of this illegal tax has been given up to now. As I write, the exchange rate is Shs2,680 to one USD. If you put back the two zeros removed in 1987, you get the actual current exchange rate of Shs268,000 to one USD (a fall of 19,042.86 per cent in the value of the Shilling since 1987.

Lastly, Sir, let me state as follows:

  • I am a simple, law-abiding citizen and I would not want to be intimidated. I, therefore, kindly request you to get off my back and give me a break;
  • Land is the most precious asset anybody can own. How come you are determined to give away our most precious asset free of charge?

Mr Okello Okello is a consultant valuer. P.O.Box 1638- Kampala