A government decision to dole out 58 acres of Uganda Railways Corporation land in Nsambya, a Kampala suburb, as “compensation” to more than a dozen private developers has ignited a standoff with 750 sitting tenants, demanding to buy the prime property themselves.
The occupants, mostly former corporation employees and their protégés, say they hold the first right under the law to purchase the non-core assets of URC being divested, but for some unexplained reason, their interests have not been accommodated in the present transaction.
Saturday Monitor understands that Uganda Land Commission (ULC), which controls public land, reclaimed titles for the 57.9-acre land from the corporation, and moved to parcel and give it out for free following various directives by President Museveni.
Our investigations show that Mr Museveni, in different letters dated; April 30, 2010, August 10, 2010 and September 29, 2010, and separately addressed to then Local Government and Lands ministers, noted that the Ugandan investors he fronted owned plots in Nakawa/Naguru estates, some of them allegedly issued in error, which they forfeited to Opecprime Properties Limited, a UK firm, to develop a satellite town.
“All land belonging to Uganda Railways Corporation in Nsambya, the President wrote, “Should be transferred immediately to Uganda Land Commission for government to determine the land quantum for distribution to the local investors who were issued Naguru/Nakawa satellite town project titles in error.”
Whereas the Public Enterprise Reform Divestiture Act, the law under which URC is disposing of its non-core properties, requires that sitting tenants be given the first priority to buy the houses/land, ULC said on Thursday that its hands were tied by the executive instruction.
“This was a directive from the President and there was nothing we could do,” said a senior official of the Commission who asked not to be named over fears he could lose his job.
Now the Nsambya tenants, under their umbrella association Uganda Railways Tenants Association, have questioned why the President, who has been at the forefront of protecting the rights of sitting tenants, has ignored their pleas this time round.
“If the government does not want to give us the land as the sitting tenants, who have the first right of refusal, then it should at least be able to buy out our goodwill as President Museveni suggested to be done for those Ugandans in Nakawa/Naguru who lost land to Opecprime project,” said Mr Isaac Ojok Olua, chairman of the tenants’ grouping.
Presidential Spokesman Mirundi Tamale on Thursday, said grievances of the tenants is legitimate, and an ad hoc committee reportedly chaired by Attorney General Peter Nyombi, is handling issues surrounding the contested giveaway.
Mr Olua said contrary to claims that the 750 tenants had no resources to develop the prime land, they have four foreign firms willing to partner with them so that they jointly erect rental condominiums, shopping malls and recreational facilities on the 58-acre land.
It is understood that government rushed to give out the Nsambya land after some of the disgruntled land owners in the Nakawa/Naguru estate went to court, seeking protection of their properties which hampered Opecprime Company proprietors from taking possession of the estates yet the President was worried about losing the investors he sourced from the UK.
On the other hand, URC was understood to be hard up and saw a government promise to pay Shs1.2b for each acre of the Nsambya land – which would make a total Shs69b for the 57.9acres - an opportunity to muster finances to pay the terminal benefits of its ex-workers, including some of the sitting tenants opposed to the transaction.
Mr Jim Mugunga, the spokesman for the Privatisation Unit, which is responsible for divestiture of public assets, said: “The present arrangement [of the land giveaway] is outside our mandate.”