Legal brains lock horns in Kiryandongo land dispute

Lands State minister Sam Mayanja (centre) during a locus visit to a disputed land in Wakiso District. Mr Mayanja has been dragged into a land dispute over a 10,000-acre piece of land in Kiryandongo District. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Some of the lawyers accuse the junior Lands minister of being biased.

Two firms are locked up in an ownership dispute over a 10,000-acre piece of land in Kiryandongo District.

The dispute has seen lawyers representing Kafu Sugar Limited and Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Limited on the one hand and government officials on the other hand trade accusations of bias and conflict of interest.

The dispute over the land arose out of a decision by the Kiryandongo District Land Board to re-enter the land and revoke the title that it had earlier issued to Kafu Sugar. The board argued that Kafu Sugar had neither paid ground rent nor utilised the land.

On February 24, the area land committee recommended the award of the land to Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Limited. It was based on this recommendation that Mr Baker Mugaino, the commissioner of land registration in the Lands ministry, issued an order noting the re-entry of the land onto the registry books. That paved the way for the issuance of a new lease and a certificate of title to Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Limited.

Kafu Sugar subsequently petitioned junior Lands minister Sam Mayanja over the matter.
The firm has since written to the Inspectorate of Government inviting the ombudsman to investigate Mr Mugaino for abuse of office.

“We implore the good office of the Inspectorate [of Government] to urgently investigate the flagrant and continued abuse of office by Baker Mugaino in the illegal appropriation of our client’s property,” reads the July 11 letter, a copy of which Saturday Monitor has seen.

In the same letter, which is copied to, among others President Museveni’s young brother, Gen Caleb Akandwanaho, alias Salim Saleh, Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA) accuses Mr Mugaino and staff of Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Limited of having used armed military personnel to forcefully gain entry to the same land and evict the staff of Kafu Sugar.

“At the time our client’s staff were evicted, no documentation explaining the presence of the army and subsequent eviction was provided to them,” the latter further reads, adding, “Our client’s staff attempted to file a complaint with the police on June 13, but the officers refused to receive the complaint.” 

It was not possible to establish from the Inspectorate of Government whether it had embarked on an investigation of the matter made clear in a letter it acknowledged receiving on July 12.

Back and forth
Minister Mayanja argued in a July 3 memo addressed to Mr Mugaino that the issuance of the title to Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Limited was void as it contravened Section 59 of the Lands Act.

The Act provides that only land that is “not owned by any person or authority” can be allocated by the land board.

The minister ordered that the title be cancelled. 
“I am instructing you to engage the process under Section 91 of the Land Act and cancel the title issued to Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Uganda Limited under a transaction which was void by virtue of Section 59 of the Land Act as amended,” Mr Mayanja wrote.

Mr Mugaino had, however, noted in a July 6 response to the minister’s memo that no laws had been breached. He argued that the land board had acted within its constitutional mandate.

“The records reveal that the due process was followed both in the process of noting re-entry and the issuance of certificates of title in the names of Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Uganda Limited,” he wrote.

Mr Mugaino, by copy of the same letter, announced the withdrawal of a notice of hearing of a petition meant to have heard a petition that Kafu Sugar had filed the petition with a view of causing an amendment to the register book. That would possibly have resulted in the cancellation of the title that had been issued to Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Limited.

Mr Mugaino advised Kafu Sugar Limited to go to court if they felt aggrieved.

Minister hits back
In a five-page response dated July 17, Minister Mayanja accuses Mr Mugaino of “wilful blindness” and bias and directs him to “immediately rescind” the notice of recall hearing of the petition. He also advises Mr Mugaino to recuse himself.

“Assign somebody to conduct the hearing since you have already shown bias in this issue,” Minister Mayanja wrote.

That triggered the entry of the lawyers of Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Limited, Ms Byenkya, Kihika and Company Advocates, who in a July 20 letter informed the minister that their client would not be party to any hearing.

“Our client shall not participate in the purported hearing if any… It is our opinion that the commissioner rightly exercised his discretion when he recalled the notice to effect changes and if Kafu Sugar Limited feels aggrieved, they can proceed as is permissible within the law,” the lawyers wrote.

The hearing that had been scheduled to take place on July 24 did not proceed.

In the same letter, the lawyers claimed that the minister seemed to be biased and conflicted on account of his past links to KAA.

“Our client also states that you are likely to be conflicted in as far as the above caption matter is concerned since you are still a partner in the law firm of MS KAA, which represents Kafu Sugar Limited,” the letter reads in part.

Minister Mayanja is listed as one of the founding partners of the firm. He does not deny links to the firm that defended President Museveni in the Supreme Court following the 2001, 2006 and 2016 general elections.

Some of the other founding partners in the firm include former Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, Mr Oscar Kambona, Mr Elly Karuhanga, Mr Peter Kabatsi, Dr Charles Kallu Kalumiya and Mr David Mpanga.

Minister denies
The minister, however, vehemently denies the claim that his interest in the Kiryandongo land issue goes beyond that of a docket holder.

“I resigned as a shareholder in the firm [KAA] the minute I was appointed a minister. I am not a shareholder there and I am not a shareholder in Kafu Sugar. The matter of conflict of interest cannot arise,” he said.

Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Limited’s lawyers are, nonetheless, adamant that the minister’s intended visit to the contested land smacks of mischief.

“Therefore, any further involvement in the matter when the technical person has issued his guidance is a clear indicator that the intended proceedings (locus visit) are a manifestation of bias and the actions of Kafu Sugar Limited are bent towards frustrating our client’s efforts to develop the land,” they opined in a letter.

The lawyers also demanded that the minister leaves the matter to another person to handle.
“It is our humble request that you excuse yourself from the investigation if any,” they demanded.

Minister Mayanja, however, told Monitor in no uncertain terms that he cannot recuse himself.

“If I recuse myself, where do the complainants go? I am the Minister of State for Lands. I am not a deputy minister. I only offered professional advice,” he said.

Minister Mayanja argued in a July 3 memo addressed to Mr Mugaino that the issuance of the title to Jinja Kazi Mingi Millers Limited was void as it contravened Section 59 of the Lands Act.