New details emerge on disputed 150- acre Serere land

Locals inspect the logs of trees which were destroyed and set on fire by officers attached to Serere local government on the disputed piece of land in 2017. PHOTO | COURTESY  

New details have emerged about the contested Serere land involving Serere District Local government and a human rights defender,  Mr Moses Omiat.

This follows the emergence of a letter purportedly written by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) directing the Local Government ministry to find ways of depriving Mr Omiat, whom the Soroti High Court declared as the rightful owner of the 150 acres of land, from taking over possession of the said land.

“Mr Omiat took the district administration and the neighbors to court in Soroti over the said land and since the district local government had no money to hire competent and committed lawyers, it ended up losing the case…” reads in part the OPM letter to the local government ministry.

Adding: “The district administration feels that the judgment was unfair and influenced. As a result, Serere District local administration and the neighbours were ordered to pay Shs320m in compensation to Mr Omiat for court costs in addition to losing the land in question. Secondly, the entire village of Otaaba that has lived on that land for over 100 years was also facing eviction threats and if left unattended to, could cause tension and possible death among 11 households with a population of over 80 people.”

As a way forward, the OPM wants the Local Government ministry to intervene.

“This letter, therefore, is to request your ministry’s support towards this matter by engaging the relevant agencies, ” the July 10, 2023, letter written by Ms Rose Alenga on behalf of the permanent secretary.

Speaking to this publication yesterday, Mr Omiat described the actions of the OPM as impunity of the highest order that wants to muzzle the authority of the courts of law.

“This is a clear example of impunity where you have ministries connive and constitute themselves into appellate courts to audit court orders. Such actions undermine the rule of law and this might force the citizens to take the law into their hands if not checked,” Mr Omiat said.

When contacted yesterday, Mr Charles Odongtho, the spokesperson of OPM, asked for more time to cross-check the details of the said letter before he could ably comment. However, by press time, he had not responded.

Respect court orders
Last Friday, during the opening of the New Law Year 2024 in Kampala on Friday, the president of the Uganda Law Society, Mr Bernard Oundo, and Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, reiterated the need to respect court orders by government entities.

“My lord, we cannot have a people-centered justice system if the RDCs and other entities outside the court system have become appellate courts that audit court judgments,” Mr Oundo said.
He added: “We are asking that there is a commitment that court orders are respected and those outside can only respect them.”

On November 4, 2022, the Attorney General, in his letter to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr Martins Okoth-Ochola, said court orders must be obeyed.

“Please note, a court order is a court order. It must be obeyed as ordered unless set aside or varied. If we allow court orders to be ignored with impunity, this will destroy the authority of judicial orders which is the heart of the judicial systems,” Mr Kiryowa said in his letter to the IGP.

“Please note further that, all organs and agencies of the state have a constitutional duty to accord the courts such assistance as may be required to ensure the effectiveness of courts,” he added.
In June 2022, Soroti High Court Judge Henry Adonyo declared Mr Omiat the lawful owner of the contested 150 acres of land, which the Serere District Local Government was also claiming.

Also in his decision, Justice Adonyo fined Serere District Local Government Shs320m in legal costs for the destruction of trees on the said land.

But ever since the decision was handed down, Mr Omiat claims several top district officials have denied him access and have also continued to trespass on it, destroying trees and assaulting his people.

He further alleges that the district officials are instead allowing trespassers to access his land and they are cutting trees for timber; charcoal burning; using the land for brick making; and using part of the land to host a weekly market.