President Museveni announced on Wednesday that a new Cabinet set to take office next month shall scrutinise findings of the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire headed commission of inquiry into land matters and produce a white paper on which government will base to overhaul the existing system.
The intention is to put an end to land disputes that have in recent times resulted in often brutal evictions.
It is great that government is keen on setting into motion a process that just might cure the problem, but is it entirely necessary to overhaul the laws?
It should be remembered that on January 16, shortly after he was declared winner of the January 14 presidential election, Mr Museveni in a televised speech from his country home in Rwakitura, promised that land evictions, which are believed to have had a bearing on Mr Museveni’s abysmal showing in central region in the presidential polls and the routing in the parliamentary elections of National Resistance Movement (NRM) Members of Parliament (MPs), “will be zero tolerated”.
Mr Museveni blamed the situation on the elite, who he said “know how to manipulate the Judiciary,” and do not respect the Land Act.
We dare say that the problem is not the law in its entirety, but the grey area therein, which unscrupulous people have been exploiting to have their way.
The Land Act of 1998, for example, recognises the status of landlords as owners and also provides for security of tenure for the bibanja owners and bona fide occupants.
The problem is that the terms of engagement seem to shackle the landlords. Very little attention seems to have been paid to the landlords’ interests.
Most landlords would, for example, have preferred to either sell to the highest bidder or demand commercial rent from the bibanja holders, but government insists that the bibanja owners should have the right to buy their holdings prior to which they can only pay landowners tokens of appreciation and not rent at market rate for their continued stay on the land. It is such gaps that need to be addressed.
Most important, however, is the need for fairness on the part of the authorities while dealing with land disputes.
There is demonstrable proof that those in authority seem to always side with squatters and trespassers without first appraising themselves of the facts surrounding the ownership and sources of contestations.
Even if the laws are overhauled they will not achieve much in the absence of fairness and justice.