Why AG won’t defend land officials in Naguru dispute

A new house being built on a section of the disputed land at Nakawa-Naguru. Court documents indicate the ULC in January gave out 38 acres of the land to several investors. PHOTO /ABUBAKER LUBOWA  

What you need to know:

  • In the letter, copied to the Lands minister, Ms Judith Nabakooba, her deputy Sam Mayanja, and the Minister in-charge of the Presidency, Ms Milly Babirye Babalanda, the government’s chief lawyer found himself opening old wounds.

On July 19, 2021, Kiryowa Kiwanuka—new to the Attorney General’s office then—dispatched a letter to the Uganda Land Commission (ULC), referencing the case between the government and Opecprime properties.

In the letter, copied to the Lands minister, Ms Judith Nabakooba, her deputy Sam Mayanja, and the Minister in-charge of the Presidency, Ms Milly Babirye Babalanda, the government’s chief lawyer found himself opening old wounds.

It was in 2018 that Opecprime dragged government to the High Court’s Commercial Division.

The former challenged the latter’s termination of the agreement around the development of about 83 acres of public land at Nakawa-Naguru.

Eleven years ago, government issued an ultimatum to nearly 10,000 people to vacate the prime Nakawa-Naguru land such that a satellite city would be erected.

After the ultimatum was enforced, Opecprime Properties—the developer—gave up on the project.

A settlement agreement signed between Opecprime and government last September indicates that the company blamed the stalled project on the decision by the ombudsman’s interventions and KCCA’s refusal to approve the original plan.

Writing last year, Mr Kiwanuka was quick to remind actors representing government in the matter about an interim order secured by Opecprime. The Attorney General advised that the interim order maintained the status quo in the sense that it stopped government from evicting Opecprime from the land. At least, not until the main case is determined.

Back in August of 2018, an interim order issued by then deputy registrar of the Commercial Court—Festo Nsenga—was extended after he forwarded the file on the Nakawa-Naguru land to Justice Richard Wejuli Wabwire.

The ULC responded to this by placing a notice on the land that read: “The general public is hereby informed that the government of Uganda has today the 19th of September, 2018 re-entered and taken possession of the land comprised in LRV 4250-14 for plots 12-80 and all sub-divisions arising therefrom which government had leased to Opecprime Properties (U) Ltd. Any person found trespassing on this land will be prosecuted.”


Contempt of court

Opecprime’s response to this government notice was swift. It filed a suit in the Commercial Court, accusing the Attorney General, the ULC, Mwesigwa Rukutana (then Deputy Attorney General), Baguma Isoke (then chairperson of the ULC), and Betty Amongi (then Lands minister) of contempt of court. To which the court agreed, with Justice Wabwire stating that “judgments, rulings, orders, declarations, and directives of the court are duly complied with.”

He summarily fined all the respondents Shs50m—which was paid by the Attorney General after dipping into the national coffers.

Writing last July, Mr Kiwanuka warned the ULC not to “interfere with the status quo of the land unless and until the main case between Opecprime and the Attorney General has been determined and or settled.”

He added in a two-page letter: “The action of allocating the Naguru land—while there is an existing court order maintaining the status quo—is not only illegal, but it is also of no legal effect and instead jeopardises the government’s case against Opecprime.”

The Attorney General, accordingly, advised the ULC to rescind any allocations it had made on the disputed land.

“Such allocations”, he added, “are illegal unless and until after the determination of the above case…unless and until the order of the court has been vacated and the matter has been determined or settled.”

Documents reviewed by Saturday Monitor show that on September 22, 2021 Opecprime agreed with the Attorney General to withdraw its main suit after they had reached an out-of-court settlement. The agreement, which was signed by Kiwanuka, Opecprime honchos plus their lawyers (Kampala Associated Advocates or KAA), resolved that 15 of the 83 acres be given to Opecprime.

“The parties agree that in respect of the third parties with developed portions, the commissioner of land registration shall reinstate the titles in favour of [Opecprime] who shall immediately transfer the respective plots to third parties. The third parties shall develop the said parcels in accordance with the approved plans by the relevant planning authority,” the agreement jointly drawn by the Attorney General and KAA reads in part.

It adds: “[Opecprime] shall relinquish any interest in the rest of land except that set out in Schedule “A” without prejudice to its other claims.”

AG Kiwanuka livid

Saturday Monitor has learnt that Mr Kiwanuka wrote a letter on September 22, 2021 to Ms Nabakooba and copied to Mr Mayanja and Mr John Karuhanga, the commissioner of land registration, informing them of the deal.

He said government had agreed to reinstate land measuring 15.629 acres to Opecprime. The company, he further revealed, agreed to relinquish any interest it had in the 66.871 acres and consequently reverted to government, unencumbered, for implementation of government projects.

The letter didn’t prompt any action, forcing KAA to—on November 8, 2021—write its protestations.

“Our clients have not been reinstated on the titles as agreed and we have been unable to obtain the certificates of title for onward transfer to third parties,” KAA protested and requested “for your assistance in order to ensure that the settlement agreement as agreed between the Government of Uganda and our clients.”  

On learning of government’s inaction, Mr Kiwanuka fired off another letter to Ms Nabakooba. The Attorney General said he had not only successfully “sought Cabinet approval” but also “used my best endeavours to ensure that Opecprime withdraws the case against the government.”

The Lands ministry’s inaction, Kiwanuka further wrote, had compelled Opecprime to file an application seeking to vary the consent withdrawal executed and endorsed by the Commercial Court on September 22, 2021 to include the settlement agreement.

“This is, therefore, to advise you to comply with the court order, which, among others, requires the commissioners for land registration to reinstate the titles for development portions of land as set out in a clause of the settlement agreement,” Kiwanuka wrote to Nabakooba.

When Andrew Nyumba, the ULC acting secretary, offered a response on February 3, he indicated that Opecprime would instead walk away with 12 acres as opposed to 15 acres.

This prompted Opecprime to file another contempt suit at the Commercial Court in which they say “[Nyumba] falsely indicated that ‘the commission in consultation with the Attorney General agreed that 12 acres of land at Naguru are reserved for third parties and Opecprime. This leaves the commission with 70.05 acres for allocation to other investors.”  

On February 8, Persis Namuganza—acting on behalf of Ms Nabakooba—wrote to Inspector General of Police (IGP) Martins Okoth Ochola. Ms Namuganza asked for police support to help “respective developers who have acquired titles in enabling them to have access to their land to fulfill their development condition.” This came after “the Uganda Land Commission…issued out leases to government projects and private developers.”


Opting out


Court documents seen by Saturday Monitor indicate that the ULC in January gave out 38 acres of the Nakawa-Naguru land to Anil Damani (3 acres), Ntinda wholesalers & Distributors (2 acres),  Arab Oil Supplies and Exploration Limited (4 acres), Dashen (U) limited (3 acres), Dembe Enterprises Limited ( 3 acres), Dominion Partners Limited (1 acre ), EACOM International Limited (1 acre), Farhruddin Properties Limited (2 acres), Gash Logistics Limited (1 acre), Global Paper Products Limited (3 acres ), Master Links Uganda Limited (3 acres), Meera Investment Limited (3 acres), Phaneroo Ministries Limited (4 acres), Rudra Hardware & Tools Limited (4 acres), Seven Hills Apartments limited (4 acres), and Wish & Wills Country Home Limited (1 acre).

Acting on a “presidential directive”, the ULC also doled out 15 acres to Internal Medicine of Virginia, and 10 acres to Uganda Heart Institute.      

In February, the battle over the Nakawa-Naguru land was cast into the spotlight when Mr Mayanja asked Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja to intervene. The junior Lands minister reasoned then that several companies were claiming ownership of sections of the land with no proof of authorisation from President Museveni.

“The purpose of this letter is to request for your urgent intervention in this matter, which has been raised several times on the floor of Parliament. I wish to suggest for starters…a meeting which should be attended by the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Uganda Land Commission, Attorney General,” Mayanja wrote.

Parliament has interested itself in the matter, but the court case is raging, with Opecprime demanding that Lands officials pay Shs500m for defying court orders. The whole episode took another twist when Mr Kiwanuka told presiding judge Jeanne Rwakooko that his lawyers can’t represent government officials since they have defied his advice. This is clearly not the last we have heard of the long-running saga.

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