Thousands of land titles could be cancelled
A wider investigation into the aggressive land evictions countrywide is looking for potential wrongdoing by government officials and has expanded to determine if alleged misconduct involved Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), magistrates and real estate dealers.
Insiders familiar with the investigation say several RDCs and magistrates may be sacked while some real estate companies may be forced out of business.
A source at the ministry of Lands says the investigation is being done by a joint task force comprising of officials from the ministry, the army and the police land protection unit.
The probe is specifically looking at how real estate dealers easily get eviction orders from courts, which they use to push bibanja owners (tenants) off their land without adequately compensating them.
The ministry committee is headed by the junior minister for Lands, Aidah Nantaba, Wakiso Woman MP Rosemary Sseninde, Deborah Asasira, and Mulinde Mukasa Kintu. The investigation team is also tasked by the president to visit different parts of the country and help evictees repossess their land.
"Because the land is intended for resale, they are not adequately paying the owners and are not compensating the tenants because that would raise the costs which they may not recover," Presidential Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi said in an interview at the weekend.
The real estate dealers, according to Mirundi, have also persuaded RDCs with sweeteners and perks into supporting the fraudulent evictions.
"We have discovered that RDCs are beneficiaries of this robbery. The ordinary people now have nowhere to run to because the RDCs who would have helped them are behind the evictors," he said.
The dealers are said to have been paying as low as Shs 500,000 to some bibanja owners, while others only receive a bag of rice before they are duped into signing sale agreements and later forced off their land. According to Henry Harrison Irumba, a principal policy analyst in the ministry of Lands, cases like these are common in Namayumba sub-county, Wakiso district.
"They [land dealers] mainly target old people who they persuade into signing agreements consenting to the sale of their land, and after getting their signatures, they pretend as if they are going to pick money from the car, but disappear without paying," Irumba said.
The Observer recently reported the case of a 78-year-old woman Erivesta Nabwami, who is fighting Hossana Real Estates over a 188-acre piece of land at Buloba along Mityana road. In Wakiso district alone, State House estimates that over 4,000 families have been affected by the evictions.
A February 22 statement on land grabbing, issued by President Museveni, said the evictions had spiked the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in different parts of the country, against which background; the government is taking steps to reverse the evictions.
Most evictions, according to Mirundi, are based on court orders issued by magistrates who are bribed by land dealers. Only three companies, Jomayi property Consultants, Akright and HB Matovu Property consultants, appear to be in good books with State House.
The group of "notorious" real estate dealers, according to Mirundi, is being monitored because they are understood to be backed by political forces working against Museveni.
"The massive evictions are part of a plot to undermine the president and overthrow the government," Mirundi says.
The group, Mirundi told us, employs soldiers to effect their evictions, and claims to be backed by State House, thus portraying the president as a double dealer.
President Museveni in a February 22 statement referred to the dealers as bayaye-minded pseudo-capitalists, and accused them of taking advantage of the ignorance of the peasants.
"Some of them are not human enough considering the way they are carrying out the evictions. It is usually done at night or very early in the morning. Many families have had their graveyards destroyed without any allowance for them to transfer the graveyards," Irumba told us.
Nantaba has recently held about three meetings with the dealers to chart out a mechanism of minimizing the eviction-related problems. She also used the meetings to sensitize the dealers on the Land Act, which prohibits eviction without adequate compensation, a basis on which, the government is helping the evictees to repossess their land.
During the meetings, Nantaba is also reported to have informed the dealers that they would lose the land titles they fraudulently acquired.
"It is going to be a process, but all land titles that were issued in error are going to be cancelled," Irumba told us, although he could not be exact on how many real estate companies would be affected.
The Observer was told that Nantaba wanted the cancellation to be done urgently, but this was resisted by senior civil servants in the ministry, citing legal landmines.
The ministry is also in the process of developing a national real estate policy which will offer a framework to guide the operations of real estate developers, managers and agents.
The Observer has learnt that because of the magnitude of the problem, on Monday through to Thursday, Nantaba stays in office up to as late as 2am, attending to various land problems. As early as 7 o'clock in the morning, on these days, there are already people waiting to meet the minister.
To manage the surging numbers, the ministry issues appointments on the basis of first come - first served.
"You can't come at this time and expect to see her. Why don't you come back on Monday, but make sure that you are here before 7am because if you again come at this time (11am) that means that you'll see her like at 2am," a security officer at the ministry's main entrance advised this writer who visited shortly before 11am on Friday.