The Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission, which was sworn in late February, started work following its launch this week.
The commission’s inquiry into the effectiveness of laws and systems in the land sector, gives Ugandans an opportunity to finally have their land secured. These Ugandans include those found in the oil-rich region.
While appreciating the role the commission could play, I also note that there are a number of factors that could hinder this commission’s effectiveness. As you are well aware, innumerable commissions of inquiry have undertaken investigations and have made recommendations and thereafter, Ugandans have waited for implementation of the recommendations in vain.
Perhaps freshest in Ugandans’ memories is the commission of inquiry into the Uganda National Roads Authority which in its May 2016 report recommended the prosecution of more than 90 public officials, but to date no prosecutions have been made.
Other inquiries whose recommendations have been ignored include the 2011 commission of inquiry into the Uganda Wildlife Authority led by Prof George Kanyeihamba, the 2002 commission of inquiry into corruption in the Uganda Revenue Authority led by Justice Julia Sebutinde and the 2011 Justice Sebutinde-led Commission of Inquiry into Corruption in police.
Billions of taxpayers’ money is wasted when little or nothing comes of these inquiries.
Important to note is that the commission has been instituted at a time when there is grave mistrust between government and the public.
As you are well aware, government, through the minister of Lands, is pushing for proposals to amend the Constitution and land laws to allow developers, including government, to forcefully take Ugandans’ land before payment of fair and adequate compensation.
The proposed amendments want courts to be involved in this illegality through allowing for depositing of aggrieved parties’ compensation with court! These proposals have caused suspicion between government and the public, suspicion that cannot allow for proper addressing of land challenges in Uganda.
Furthermore, corruption in Uganda is the biggest cause of land disputes in Uganda. President Museveni noted this during his recent visit to Bukasa, Kito and Namataba villages during which he called some lands officials “thieves”.
Without decisive action on this deep-seated vice of corruption, no inquiry will rid Uganda of land challenges.
It is this corruption in addition to inequality that has seen poor Ugandans lose their land to the rich. In a recent interview with The Observer, Bugahya County MP Pius Wakabi said rich people from Kampala were grabbing Bunyoro land. Without addressing inequality, the commission’s efforts will be in vain.
The other challenge the commission might face is to do with proof of ownership of land. Despite Section 4 of the 1998 Land Act providing for issuance of customary land certificates, this provision has largely remained on paper.
This is despite repeated calls by communities in the oil region to ministry of Lands to issue these certificates. Without proof of ownership of land, evictions will continue. It is important to recall that more than 75 per cent of land in Uganda is held under customary ownership.
In addition to weak district land boards, which issue these customary land certificates, is a lands system that has failed to enable the operation of community lands tribunals.
In late 2006, the mandate of the district land tribunals which are provided for under Section 74 of the Land Act (1998) expired and, then Chief Justice directed that the hearing of land cases be transferred to the Chief Magistrate and Grade One Magistrates’ courts.
This directive is unfortunate because courts are too expensive and far from some communities, denying them access to justice. In addition, without these tribunals, handling of disputes between project-affected persons and developers is left to developers, which is an unfair system favouring developers.
Furthermore, Section 20 of the Land Acquisition Act (1965) that provides for the formulation of regulations for the assessment and payment of compensation regarding compulsory acquisition too has remained on paper. The commission must compel the minister of Lands to honour this section.
With Uganda moving towards more land acquisitions for oil sector infrastructure such as the crude export pipeline, the finished oil products’ pipeline, central processing facilities, airports, roads, power lines, pipeline heating centres and others, land abuses will occur, and we need urgent solutions in to the land issue in Uganda.
The writer in a projects assistant at the Africa Institute for Energy Governance
Mr Acemah returns next week