On 8th November, 2016 I wrote an opinion warning Ugandans about the dangers of a brewing attempt at amending the Constitution and laws that would further enable state-initiated/ facilitated land-grabbing.
The use or abuse of state institutions and state power by individuals to grab people’s land is a real and escalating menace. In recent times, Lands “Minister” Amongi was reported to have cancelled some “fraudulently-acquired” land tittles in Sembabule and Hoima.
Interestingly, there was no mention of the state officials (ministers, military and security officers, RDCs, Lands officials etc) involved in the conspiracy to grab people’s land and how this would be stopped.
On 17th December, “Minister” Amongi formally announced the regime’s plan to change the supreme law of Uganda, the Constitution, as had been rumoured for some time. This proposal is designed to deprive Ugandans of the strongest tool available to protect the sanctity of our property rights, and to shield land-related injustice, because when all else fails, it is to the Constitution that we turn.
The regime’s intention is to amend Article 26, which, in very limited circumstances, allows government to compulsorily take possession of people’s land.When such situations arise, the Constitution compels the state to promptly pay fair and adequate compensation to the landowner, prior to taking possession.
The contentious matter in the proposed changes is that the regime can forcefully take your land before paying you fair and adequate compensation. The ‘minister’ wants to add new provisions to Article 26 as follows:
“(3) Where the parties are unable to agree on the fair and adequate compensation payable under clause (2)(b)(i), the Government shall deposit in Court or with any other competent authority, the value of the property as evaluated by the Chief Government Valuer and the Government shall take possession of the property pending determination by the Court or other competent authority of the disputed amount of the compensation.”
“(4) Notwithstanding clause (2)(b)(i), Government shall take possession of the property where the Government has deposited the evaluated compensation amount referred to in clause (3), but the owner of the property shall have a right to claim the disputed compensation amount that may be determined by the Court or other competent authority.”
The justification offered for this radical change is that ‘speculators’ buy land and demand astronomical prices from government. The delay in arriving at acceptable compensation delays government projects and causes great loss of public funds through paying interest on loans that are not being used for the intended projects.
It’s important to note that the ‘minister’ has not done what the law requires to be done on this matter. That is to make regulations for the assessment and payment of compensation, as required by Section 20 of the Land Acquisition Act 1965.
Such regulations would provide equitable mechanisms that would lead to a judicious and fair outcome. As of now, it’s the regime’s Valuer (buyer) that determines the price!
The Land Acquisition Act, itself, is quite deficient. In other countries, such a law provides for transparent and inclusive processes for determining whether acquisition of the intended land is absolutely necessary; the area and size of land to be acquired; social impact assessment among the affected communities; environmental impact assessment; social cost and benefit analysis of intended development; etc.
There are independent expert groups that evaluate the generated reports. A joint valuation process and a creatively-composed Evaluation Arbitration Committee are some of the possible mechanisms for quickly arriving at a fair and acceptable compensation. All these are vital processes that protect people and mitigate the adverse effects of development.
Regrettably, there is absence of a clear pro-people law and regulations. As a result, the regime currently dictates unfair amounts for some and overpays others.
They even compensate the WRONG owners as was the case recently reported in Mbarara, where an unnamed encroacher (confirmed by the courts!) was given 600 million shillings!! The land ‘speculators’ the ‘minister’ complains about have a much better chance of being paid promptly before authentic/ genuine landowners.
Many ordinary people have had their lands taken without recourse, because they are ignorant about their land rights, and the majority have no financial capacity to challenge the regime in court. Delayed compensation has been the norm for years; property is undervalued or owners are not paid at all.
Civil society organizations, such as AFIEGO working in the oil-impacted Albertine region, have shown that compensation can be delayed as much as ten years even though the regime has already taken their land. In addition, “cut-offs” have been imposed. So, if my land is assessed in 2017 to be worth 10 million shillings, but I wasn’t compensated until 2027, I would still only get 10 million shillings!
In a recent open letter published in The Observer, Afiego CEO Dickens Kamugisha raises an important question; if there are unspent loans and money is available as ‘minister’ Amongi suggests, then why are landowners who currently have agreements in place not being compensated?
There is no doubt that we all would be better off with a developed infrastructure of oil-pipelines, dams, better roads, railways, etc. Those of us who protest the change in the Constitution are not against such developments. We believe that we can develop, while at the same time, safeguarding people’s land from being grabbed by the powerful using government.
It is the corrupt people in government who are frustrating development; even, sabotaging the very projects for which land is acquired. Do we lack valley dams because there was delay in acquiring land? Mukono-Katosi and very many other roads have not delayed due to land acquisition problems and, when eventually done, they are terribly substandard!
Had Karuma dam stalled due to land acquisition problems? One can go on and on!!
Debt affordability for these huge infrastructural projects is a persistent vulnerability for our country. The gross mismanagement of these large projects is in the papers daily. The World Bank is holding back funds because we have ‘absorption problems’ and yet taxpayers are responsible for interest payments on that very debt.
The bottom line is, with the current levels of corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement; the regime cannot afford to pay for land.
On Christmas eve, Ms Amongi announced a commission of inquiry on land matters, appointed by Mr Museveni, to be led by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire. Remarkably, none of the terms of reference outlined in the press mentioned state-initiated/ facilitated land grabbing. Ugandans should use the commission’s consultations to demand for critical inquiry into large-scale land grabbing facilitated by regime officials.
Since the issue of ‘Amongi Amendments’ emerged in the press in August of last year, several lawyers and legal scholars have offered very considered opinions on the matter.
In a recent Daily Monitor article, Peter Mulira reminds us that Article One of our Constitution provides that all power belongs to the people who shall exercise their sovereignty in accordance with the Constitution.
He refers to Article 44, which states that there shall be no derogation from the enjoyment of, among others, the right to a fair hearing. After deconstructing the current Amongi proposal, he opined that the proposed processes, including depositing money in a court,based on a regime ‘valuer’, with no appeals process to a higher court, is unconstitutional.
As such, a bill for an Act of Parliament to amend the constitution that violates provisions of Article 44 calls for a national referendum.
Landholding is critical for the survival and prosperity of most Ugandans. Our land is our security. It is our most valuable asset. Our land means far more to us than just the ground beneath our feet. The sanctity of Article 26 of the Constitution is vital in protecting our people’s land from a predatory regime.
The vigilance of Ugandans in defending this Article of the constitution is going to be an important test of our determination to regain control of our country. If we are not defiant, much of Uganda’s land could very well end up under the control of a dictator and his family and friends.
Let us organize ourselves and stand up for our land! We shall keep citizens informed about the course of action, if Parliament, as is likely, supports the amendment of Article 26.