District leaders ignorant about Lands Zonal Offices

Sunday September 26 2021

Mr Lawrence Nabbamba at his home built on part of a contested piece of land in Buwate, Kira Municipality in Wakiso District last month. Many people have lost their land to fraudsters because of ignorance about where to get help. PHOTO/ JULIET KIGONGO

By Derrick Kiyonga

When Lands State minister Sam Mayanja visited Masindi early September, he asked the district chairperson, Mr Cosmas Byaruhanga, if he had heard of the ministry’s Lands Zonal Offices. 

“I don’t know much about that office, but recently, I met a girl who said she works there,” Mr Byaruhanga confessed.    
The Masindi Lands Zonal Office is critical in processing land transactions for the districts of Hoima, Kikuube, Buliisa, and Kiryandango in Bunyoro Sub-region, where Uganda’s oil will be drilled. Sadly, there is ignorance about the Lands Zonal Offices there.    

But Mr Byaruhanga is not alone. Mr Sam Atul, the mayor of newly formed Lira City, told Mr Mayanja he too knew little about the Lands Zonal Offices, yet the Lira offices sit only a stone’s throw away from his office. 
“I have never been to their offices,” Mr Atul said. 

“We don’t know what they do; we need more awareness about this office,” he added.    

Although local leaders say they are unaware of the Lands Zonal Offices, Uganda has now set up 22 such offices, which facilitate land transactions.

Here, physical search on a land title, acquiring a freehold land title, acquiring a leasehold land title, transferring Mailo land, converting a leasehold to a freehold land title, registering a caveat, carrying out sub-division on Mailo land, registering mortgages, and replacing a lost or damaged title are done. 


It is these zonal offices that house Uganda’s National Land Information System (LIS), whose main objective is to stem fraud in Uganda’s lands system.  

All the 22 Lands Ministry Zonal Offices (MZOs) are synchronised at the National Land Information Centre found at Nakasero. The system provides a monitoring tool that enables management to monitor all the MZOs across the country and the staff employed there -ensuring optimal utilization of time and resources.

The Lands officials say Uganda boasts of being the first African country to institute the Land Information System, which includes a GRM Registry, which is a multi-tiered software system that can be designed to automate land and civil registration processes and GRM multi-cadaster used for managing land parcels, and in creating deed plans and maps. 

“It’s using our own software, so it’s sustainable,” Mr Grace Kagoro, who is marshalling the ministry’s digitisation process under a project dubbed Competitiveness and Enterprise Development, says. 

“With this system, it’s very hard to have a land title in two different names because the system automatically rejects it,” Mr Kagoro adds.

Despite this initiative, fraud, including registering more than one title on the same piece of land, still exists.  
This is committed within the Lands Registry, which is mandated to issue duplicate certificates of title.
This persisting fraud has left the minister puzzled. 

“With all this computerisation and checks, why do we still have cases of more than one title on the same piece of land?” Mr Mayanja asked while visiting the Kibaale Lands Zonal Office. 

“I have been in office for about three months, but not a single day ends without people coming to my office complaining of land fraud, yet we now have a computerised system,” he added. 
The minister didn’t get a ready answer.

The Kibaale Lands Zonal Office covers Kibaale, Kagadi and Kakumiro, which comprise what were formerly the Lost Counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi, which had been gifted to Buganda Kingdom by the British following their defeat of Bunyoro King Kabalega.  

Following the contentious 1964 Referendum on the Lost Counties, both Buyaga and Bugangaizi were reverted to Bunyoro, a move that later triggered the 1966 Buganda crisis, leading to the exiling of Kabaka Edward Muteesa, the first president of Uganda.   

Although there have been efforts by the government to transfer land titles from the names of the Baganda absentee landlords to those of the indigenous people, land officials in these areas complain there are still land titles in the names of absentee landlords, and that their grandchildren or great-grandchildren have never stepped up to claim the land, making it difficult to pay them off such that land can be legally occupied by native Banyoro. 

“We do not know what we are going to do because now the people in possession of the land aren’t legally the owners of the land because of absentee landlords,” Mr Denis Kahabura, the senior registrar of land titles in Kibaale Lands Zonal office, says.        

In 2017, President Museveni, who has made digitalisation of the land system a key cog in his agenda, commissioned the Kibaale Lands Zonal Office and gave away about 254 land titles to tenants in Buyaga and Bugangaizi at a function in Karuguza, Kibaale Town, which previously belonged to one Aguste Birimumaso.

Although both are in Bunyoro, the Masindi and Kibaale Lands Zonal offices have contrasting fortunes and it is clear why. 
Ms Victoria Namugambe, the acting registrar for Masindi Lands Zonal Office, says they have few land wrangles owing to the land tenure system being mainly freehold and leasehold, while the Kibaale Lands officials attributed their land wrangles to the Mailo systems since the area was part of Buganda where Mailo system is predominate.  
“This is why I have been in the news,” Mr Mayanja explained to the officials. 

“This Mailo creates two owners: the one with the title and the one with possession. And I’m trying to find a solution because you can’t evict a kibanja (plot) holder. So what do you get in holding onto this title because even the Busuulu (ground rent) being paid is little money,” Mr Mayanja said.  

The Mailo system will continue to be a thorn in the flesh of Uganda’s land system, but Mr Mayanja’s focus has been on how efficient the Land Information System works. 

Just like at the passport office where the person who urgently needs a passport can pay some extra amount such that it can be processed within two days, Mr Mayanja wants the same to be replicated in the land registry.

“Can’t people who want their mortgages processed quickly pay an extra amount such that banks can process their loans quickly?”  Mr Mayanja wondered.  Officials at various land registries said it is possible to process mortgages within a short period of time, but it is impossible to process land titles because of insufficient stuff in various zonal offices.  

For the Lands Zonal Offices to be sufficiently stuffed, they need a surveyor, valuer, cartographer, physical planner, senior registrar of titles, ICT officer, registrar of titles, lands officers, inter-alia.  

“You find that we share a surveyor with other government entities or zonal offices,” Mr Emmanuel Bamwiite, a senior registrar of titles in the Lira Lands Zonal Office, explained. 

He added: “Now, our surveyor isn’t around because he is working with Unra [Uganda National Roads Authority]. So the process of getting titles can’t go on smoothly. We need adequate stuff.”

The Land Informant System has been lauded for providing a vigorous, secure and transparent method for registry offices to record and manage property transactions and land information and together, GRM registry and GRM Cadaster offer unrivalled functionality and flexibility.  

Separately, the GRM registry also easily integrates with GRM Valuation and GRM Tax to fully automate property assessments and taxation. No wonder ever since the Land Information System was instituted in 2017, official records show $200m (Shs703.5b) has been delivered to the Consolidated Fund. 

“We don’t start any transaction without payment,” Mr Kagolo explained how the money has been collected.
“You have to first pay in the bank, then to Uganda Revenue Authority for the process to start. That’s why we have been able to contribute that much to the Consolidated Fund.”     

Since they have generated a lot of revenue over the years, officials in the Lands Zonal Offices feel it is about time the government reinvested into these offices. “The record is very clear: We have been generating money, but our officials are earning little yet they handle transactions worth billions. That is why sometimes they are tempted to take bribes,” Francis Ateng, the head of Lira Lands Zonal Office, said. 

But Mr Mayanja said the austerity measures instituted by the Finance ministry because of Covid-19 have affected most ministries. 

“I have been told most ministries have had budgets cuts of about 40 per cent, but this situation isn’t going to last forever. I’m going to take these issues to the President because this is his ‘baby’. It’s him who started all of this,” Mr Mayanja said.

The emergence of cities has also created a headache for some Lands Zonal Offices. For instance, in Lira, the city and district authorities are clashing over how land transactions should be conducted. The city authorities recently wrote to the district asking them to vacate their headquarters since they are found within Lira City. 

“The title is in the name of the district, but the city people just want us to leave without compensation,” Mr RCM Okello Orik, the Lira District chairperson, said. 

“It seems the city authorities are excited, yet we want to handle the issues maturely,” he added.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, the Lands Zonal officials have asked the government to give proper guidelines. 
“The ministry should develop a clear policy on land management on the transition from districts to the cities,” Mr Oteng said. 

It’s not clear yet whether it should be the Ministry of Lands or the Local Government who will give such guidelines.

How lands zonal offices work  

The 22 Lands Zonal Offices house Uganda’s National Land Information System (LIS) and facilitate physical search of land titles, acquiring a freehold land title, acquiring a leasehold land title, transfer of Mailo land, converting a leasehold into a freehold land title, registering a caveat, carrying out a sub-division on Mailo land, registering mortgages, replacing a lot or damaged title, inter-alia.  

It is these zonal offices whose main objective is to stem fraud in Uganda’s system.  

Inaugurated in 2017, as part of the comprehensive land reforms, Lands Ministry Zonal Offices (MZOs) have taken up the roles previously played by district land offices. MZOs, just like district land offices, are excepted to have the following staff;  physical planner, land officer, cartographers, valuer, surveyor, records officer, ICT officer, communications officer, registrar of titles, inter-alia. Each of the officers plays a technical role as far as land administration is concerned.   

All the 22 MZOs are synchronised at the National Land Information Centre found at Nakasero. The system provides a monitoring tool that enables management to monitor all the MZOs across the country and the staff employed there -ensuring optimal utilization of time and resources.


The role of MZOs includes transferring, issuing, and cancelling titles; processing mortgages, physical planning, surveying, valuation, land administration and land registration, monitoring, supervising and offering technical guidance to the local governments, and also provide general technical guidance to the public on the matters of land administration and management of land.   

Besides, MZOs house the computerised land system known as Land Information System (LIS), which has played a big role in eliminating the use of paper in land management in Uganda.  

Through the LIS, Lands ministry officials say MZOs have been able to secure titles and registration documents by transferring them into digital forms, prepare digital non-geographic documents for a document management system, create a land information layer of topological land parcel polygons, and link land parcels to title registers data by unique parcel identifiers.  

The LIS system, which was implemented, thanks to a World Bank loan of $66 million (Shs232b) which has since been repaid, has according to lands officials been able to reduce backdoor transactions, forgeries and graft, and other challenges associated with missing land records.

Zonal offices

Kampala (KCCA)
Luweero, Mpigi
Wakiso (Busiro and Kyadondo)
Soroti and Moroto 

The  offices...Staffing
For the Lands Zonal Offices to be sufficiently stuffed, they need a surveyor, valuer, cartographer, physical planner, senior registrar of titles, ICT officer, registrar of titles, lands officers, inter-alia.