Whenever a month comes to a close, many of us start panicking about a catalogue of family bills. From rent to electricity to water to TV bills, we start partitioning our payment priorities in fear of instant disconnection or that nagging call from the cantankerous landlord!
This pressure is extended to school fees, tithe and other voluntary contributions to members’ clubs or saving groups.
Given that many Ugandans live an ordinary life (they call it middle class) or worse, these experiences are commonplace. We are even often forced to exercise utmost financial discipline to meet such demanding bills amid a litany of other secondary obligations. We are not forced; we are not reminded; we just know we have to pay. So, when Buganda Land Board recently started a massive campaign of collecting the annual nominal ground rent, commonly known as Busuulu, I was surprised when some tenants on kingdom land complained about it.
Let’s not delve into the technicalities of busuulu levies, but use the example of one specific mother of four in Wakiso District, who questioned the need to pay Busuulu! It is mindboggling!
But since she did not question the legality of Busuulu, and instead wanted to know she should pay rent for land on which she has dwelled for decades, I cited an ordinary example for her.
I am a committed Catholic and on every end of the month, I pay the tithe (not necessarily 10 per cent of my salary, but at least I pay). While this is not a mandatory obligation, I feel very happy to make this payment. I believe it is the same feeling of the many people I see in church and on TV raising envelopes whenever the man of God asks them to raise their tithe for a spiritual blessing.
So, I referenced Busuulu to the weekly tithe that she confessed to giving and the monthly TV subscription she religiously pays. I told her that if she can pay a monthly TV subscription of Shs20,000, what about Shs5,000 or Shs40,000 every year to the owner of the land on which her beautiful house sits or where she cultivates the food that feeds her blossoming family?
The woman eventually made sense of Busuulu before I could even explain its advantages or the fact that paying nominal ground rent is a provision of the Land Act 1998 and its subsequent amendment in 2010. People with a similar feeling are many in society, but they should be made to understand that just like their monthly house rent, Busuulu creates a good relationship between the landlord and the tenant.
It further strengthens one’s grip on their respective plot since the law provides that the only way a kibanja holder can be relieved of that ownership is by failure or refusal to pay annual nominal ground rent.
We have heard stories of landlords that ‘hide’ from tenants on their land and wait after the legal three years and start threatening them with eviction for non-payment of busuulu. In other cases, courts of law have granted wishes of landlords to evict people.
So, when Buganda Kingdom, the biggest mailo landlord in Uganda, offers to reach out to tenants on kingdom land through a door-to-door approach to pay busuulu and secure their tenancy, such a gesture should be received with open hands. It is a sign the landlord does not only follow the laws of the land, but also has no interest in evicting tenants.
Besides, since busuulu is a nominal fee, it is understandable that many people are reluctant to go to the bank or visit a BLB office to pay. It is possible that someone in Kyannamukaaka would spend more money to go to a bank in Masaka Town to deposit annual ground rent of Shs2,500. So, the approach by BLB should help everyone utilise the opportunity to pay Busuulu arrears and receive a ticket.
Let us treat Busuulu like any other demanding family bill we ought to pay.
Mr Kimbowa is the team leader for communications at Buganda Land Board.