Any chance the Land Office will reopen in our lifetime?
Posted Thursday, March 21 2013 at 02:00
When we were pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, hers was the tender arm around the shoulder urging us to keep going. Sarah did not have children but she has left many orphans. Our thoughts go out to her family and to the Observer team.
In October last year someone I know submitted house building plans to the authorities in Wakiso District. Her architect offered to do it on her behalf for a total consideration of about Shs700,000 – money that ostensibly was to ‘grease’ the process and speed things along.
My friend – let’s call her Ms X – declined. She wanted to go through the proper process and learn how it works, in case she ever needed to use it again. Thus started a journey of endless frustration. First she had to take some technocrat to visit her site to make a health and safety assessment. The technocrat asked for Shs200,000 for transport to the site. Ms X offered, instead, to pick her up from a place of her choice, drive her to the site and return her to her office or home.
Perhaps identifying a ‘difficult’ client, the technocrats became less and less responsive until Ms X was forced to transport this ‘Government Inspector’ to the site and offer a ‘transport refund’ of Shs100,000.
This sped things along a bit and Ms X was able to get an assessment to pay close to Shs800,000 in official fees, which she gladly did. But by now it was already December and her plans could not be approved until some council of sorts had sat to approve them. Why did a council need to sit to conduct the technocratic business of approving a plan? Ms X asked.
“That’s how things are done here,” she was casually and unhelpfully told. The Christmas holidays came and went, the New Year came, and by the time of writing Ms X has not heard back from the district about her plans.
She had wanted to start construction in December so she could find some time to supervise the contractors. Instead she has been forced to invest her money into other ventures and wait for the district council to find time in its busy schedule to do its work. In the meantime, cement dealers, brick makers, builders and site porters all have one customer less.
Ms X’s story is not an isolated incident. It is symptomatic of the frustrating failure of ordinary state institutions, their unsteady foundations pulled apart by strings of red tape and the corroding scheming of corrupt technocrats.
I once had the misfortune of dealing with the Land Office at Mukono and will never recover those lost and fruitless months of my life. The Land Registrar was legendary; everyone spoke about him, but no one ever recalled seeing him. Some weeks he graced his humble subjects with his fleeting presence, arriving in the office at 10am for an hour or so, before disappearing for lunch, not to be seen again for days.
Those disappearances are now occurring at a national scale. The Land Office in Kampala remains closed three months after what was supposed to be a couple of weeks closure to computerise the land title division.
In reality, the project to computerise the land registry has been on for more than five years but has faced a lot of opposition from the corrupt Lands officials who have mastered the art of duplicating land titles and colluding with crooks to defraud honest folk.
We might never know how much value we have lost over three months in which few, if any, land transactions have taken place. Junior Lands minister Aidah Nantaba, who famously blocked the swearing-in of half a dozen other ministers until her appointment was approved, has made herself infamous siding with greedy peasants seeking to take back land they willingly sold. She can make herself useful if she lit a fire under the bums of the Land Registry officials and got them to speed things up but someone keep her on a short leash; in her ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ style, she might burn up the place instead.
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This week we lost a friend, colleague and mentor in Dr Sarah Nantaba Namulondo. Those who knew her and met her can count themselves lucky for having encountered such a nice and tender person. When we were pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, hers was the tender arm around the shoulder urging us to keep going. Sarah did not have children but she has left many orphans. Our thoughts go out to her family and to the Observer team.