What you need to know:
- Compensation. The Bill seeks to empower Government to take possession of the property upon depositing the compensation awarded for the property with court, pending determination by court of the disputed compensation.
The Constitution Amendment Bill 2017, currently before Parliament, has attracted mixed reactions with government labouring to convince the public about its “good intention”.
Whereas proponents of the Bill have played beautiful ballads for development, its antagonists are castigating it as a process to legalise land grabbing by the government.
The Bill seeks to “amend Article 26 of the Constitution to enable government deposit with court, compensation it awards for property declared for compulsory acquisition.”
Mr Peter Mulira, a renowned lawyer on land matters, says the most targeted land is between Entebbe and Kampala, which is private mailo but with people possessing freehold land titles.
“This means that the titles are fraudulent hence blocking government projects by demanding huge sums of money. There is no way you can possess a free hold on a private mailo,” he says.
Whereas the government insists that the objective of the Bill is to resolve the current problem of delayed implementation of government infrastructure and investment projects due to disputes arising out of the compulsory land acquisition process, often resulting in unwarranted expenses inform of fines awarded to contractors, Mulira says this is a scape-goat.
He refers to the Land Acquisition Act (1965), which grants government powers to acquire land under “difficult situations” as an alternative, rather than “tampering with the Constitution.”
The law under section 6 and 7 outlines awards and procedures of acquisition of land by government. The difference, however, is that whereas the existing law provides for adequate compensation prior to commencement of the projects, the amendment is pushing for project implementation amidst unsettled disputes.
The Minister of Lands Housing and Urban Development, Ms Betty Amongi, says Mulira’s submission on the Land Act is not valid since Section 7 was “expunged” by both the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court in 2014.
The provision gave the minister of Lands, after an award of compensation has been made, to take possession of land at any time after the publication of the declaration for public interest.
She also dismisses the public debate that many people will be rendered landless.
“The fears are baseless and unfounded because we shall ensure fair and adequate compensation prior to the taking over of the property,” she says, adding: “The good intentions of this amendment should not be overshadowed by false allegations of land grabbing,” Ms Amongi adds.
Meanwhile, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Ms Winnie Kiiza (FDC-Kasese), says the Bill will be rejected and they have since announced plans to sensitise the public on the matter.
She raises concerns over the unsettled arrears, more than Shs2.7 trillion meant for compensation of persons affected by the project.
“If there are uncountable instances where government has failed to compensate people even after they have accepted to be relocated, how can we be sure that those with disputes will be paid,” she asked.
Such land includes the Nakawa-Naguru Estate which remains undeveloped, over seven years since it was acquired, the land on Yusuf Lulethat belonged to Shimoni Demonstration schools and has remained idle for more than 12 years and several other chunks of land in Namanve Industrial Park.
Mr James Nkuubi, a lawyer and the programmes coordinator at the Human Rights Network (Uganda), says: “If the ministry was honest, it should have put that as one of the terms of reference for the Commission of Inquiry to ask the public about their views on government compensation and compulsory acquisition of land.”
Mr Nkuubi argues that if development is pro-people, then their views must be considered.
In the face of these controversies, government has made public a list of nine (9) cases, where projects have stalled over disputed compensation rates.
Most affected is the Standard Gauge Railway and other projects, mainly under the ministry of Works and Transport.
As the Committee sits on Tuesday next week, these and many others will form part of the questions to the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the Attorney General.