500 families face eviction

Some of the settlements on the contested land. The National Forestry Authority has accused Soroti Municipal Council leaders of illegally allocating the Soroti Central Forest Reserve land to private developers. PHOTO BY GEORGE MURON

SOROTI- More than 500 families in Soroti town are at the verge of being evicted after the National Forestry Authority (NFA) claimed ownership of the land.
NFA has accused Soroti Municipal Council leaders of allocating Soroti Central Forest Reserve land to private developers.

Last week, NFA wrote to Soroti Municipal Council demanding cancellation of illegal land titles it allegedly allocated to the developers.

NFA warned it would forcefully demolish modern structures that have been erected on its land by illegal occupants should the municipal council fail to act.
The resolution to give out NFA land within the vicinity of Soroti town was arrived at by Soroti Municipal Council in early 2001.

When NFA contested the move, a resolution was again passed to have more than 500 acres of land purchased for the forestry authority in Bukedea District, which has not been achieved 17 years later as leaders cite lack of funds.

The executive director NFA, Mr Michael Mugisa, accused the Soroti District land board of ‘grossly violating the NFA Act of 2000 and 2003 section 44(4), by illegally selling its land at Soroti Central Forest Reserve without the forest authority’s prior knowledge.’

He said NFA’s mandate is to ensure forest reserves are maintained for future posterity.

“Soroti District land board is required to cancel all tittles issued on our land and stop henceforth any further illegal land allocations in forest reserves, which are held in trust by government on behalf of the people of Uganda,” Mr Mugisa said.

Ms Norah Ilota, one of the affected residents, said municipal authorities have kept them in the dark about the impending demolition.
“As occupants who got allocations for plots from municipal (authorities) through the land board, we have never been served with letters, all we have heard are rumours,” Ms Ilota said.
Ms Ilota said they were never informed that the land was a forest reserve, saying it will be incumbent upon municipal council to explain.
The Soroti District lands officer, Ms Catherine Akello, whose office has been indicted by NFA in the dubious land giveaway, said she has not been served with any letter by NFA over the said land.

“What even absolves me from this matter is the fact that by the time the alleged land currently at play was given out, I was not a lands officer for the district,” she said.
The Soroti town mayor, Mr Paul Omer, who confirmed receipt of the letter, blamed the district leadership and the land board for the impasse.

“The best people to explain this matter are those in the offices of the town clerk and land board. They are the ones who know their technical allocations, I have only received a warning letter and I will sensitise the public,” he said.

Mr Emmanuel Okaja, the deputy town clerk, declined to comment saying he had not yet read the letter.