A Court of Appeal judge has allowed the destruction of 22 Square miles of the disputed Bugoma Central Forest Reserve land in Hoima District to pave way for sugarcane growing.
Justice Frederick Egonda Ntende has dismissed with costs, an application in which the forestry authority had sought to temporarily block implementation of orders of the High Court.
“The applicant (National Forestry Authority -NFA) has failed to demonstrate that there is an imminent threat of alienating, selling, transferring, developing, executing or in anyway dealing, interfering with the status quo of the disputed land,” Justice Ntende ruled on Friday.
NFA through its lawyers had filed the application seeking for express orders stopping the execution of High Court orders until their appeal is heard and determined.
Court documents indicate that NFA appealed against dismissal with costs a case in which it sued the Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom Solomon Iguru Gafabusa over alleged encroachment and degradation on Bugoma Central Forest Reserve.
The Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom is jointly accused with Hoima Sugar Limited and Uganda Land Commission (ULC) over fraudulent concealment when he applied for a freehold title for part of the forest land which was granted by the ULC.
High Court sitting in Masindi before Justice Wilson Masalu Musene dismissed with costs the NFA case.
Justice Musene ruled that the accused parties did not commit any act of fraud in acquiring the title and that the transfer of the same title was lawful.
Court documents indicate that on August 1, 2016, the Omukama Gafabusa applied for a freehold certificate of title for the disputed land and he transferred it to Hoima Sugar Limited on August 5, 2016.
The court relied on the evidence by the Commissioner for Surveys and Mapping, Mr George Wilson Ogaro, who testified that there is no information in regard to the survey and gazettment of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve.
In his sworn statement, Mr Ogaro told the court that the disputed land is outside Bugoma Forest Reserve.
The land under dispute is comprised at Plot 216, Buhanguzi Block 2, Hoima held by Hoima Sugar Limited, which forms part of Bugoma forest.
Justice Masalu did not award Shs90 billion claimed by Hoima Sugar Limited as damages against NFA for interfering with their work and Shs38 billion claimed by the Kingdom in damages.
Justice Masalu took over the case on March 18 hardly three months after Masindi resident Judge Albert Rugadya Atwooki pulled out of the case in December last year when it had been set for judgment.
Since 2016, the forestry body had sought court declarations that the king’s stay and utilisation of the natural forest reserve is illegal and amounts to trespass.
But the king denied the allegations of encroachment and degrading the forest.
In its defence, the kingdom contends that the disputed part of the forest is an ancestral place of Kyangwali which forms the original seat of the kingdom headquarters and is not part of Bugoma forest.
In September 2016, the government cancelled Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom’s land title in Bugoma Forest.
On August 23, 2016 NFA had asked the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to cancel land titles issued in Bugoma Central Forest to enable them secure the integrity of natural resource.
There has been ongoing destruction of the forest reserve by locals purporting to be working on directives of the king to claim 8,000 hectares from Bugoma Forest reserve.
Court temporarily halted the cancellation of land title held by the king until the land case has been disposed of.
In October 2018, The Commission of Inquiry into land matters attacked judges for issuing “bogus orders” that have caused the rampant eviction of both government and private individuals from the land they occupied for decades. Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, who chaired the land inquiry revealed that more than 12 square miles of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve had been handed to Hoima Sugar Works through a ruling of Court that reversed the cancellation of title to the land by the Lands ministry.