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Uganda Land Commission is ‘illegal’

The Uganda Land Commission should stop holding and allocating public land because it neither has an enabling law nor an approved structure, a consultant has recommended.

Uganda Land Commission  illegal, says audit report

Audit report calls for overhaul of the underperforming ULC

The Uganda Land Commission should stop holding and allocating public land because it neither has an enabling law nor an approved structure, a consultant has recommended. The number of commissioners, who have been costing the taxpayer Shs 8 million per month in sitting allowances, should also be reduced from eight to four.

The commissioners have been working full time, yet the Constitution provides that they should meet at least once every two months. According to a preliminary report, a copy of which The Observer has seen, the government needs to amend Article 237 (1) of the Constitution and the Land Act Cap 227 to authorise the state (the Commission) to exercise power on behalf of Ugandans.

The recommendation is one of several arrived at after a forensic audit of the Mayanja Nkangi-led Commission that exposed the legal loopholes in this government body that, according to the Constitution, holds and manages land in Uganda that is vested in or acquired by government in accordance with the law.

The unflattering report, presented to the ministry of Public Service early this month, is to serve as a review for restructuring of the Commission to address inconsistencies, weaknesses, duplications, overlaps, conflicts, ambiguities and performance gaps so as to ensure cost effectiveness, affordability and efficiency in service delivery.

The audit was carried out by an American consortium, Adam Smith International. The report noted, among other findings, that there are conflicts within the existing public accountability laws. For instance, it was established that some land under ULC jurisdiction is neither surveyed nor titled, and is either allocated to users without the knowledge of ULC or simply grabbed and utilized.

This is contrary to the Budget Act, which requires all institutions holding and using public assets to keep them safely and securely. This particular issue has been the root cause of many conflicts on public land. The report also shows that government land for sale or allocation is not availed to the public as required by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act (PPDA) because the process is done without public advertisement.

The matter was noted by the Auditor General in his management letter to ULC for the 2009/10 financial year, in which he took the Commission to task for flouting PPDA provisions. There is also lack of a clear distinction between government land, public land and local government land.

“These terms are used interchangeably or taken to mean the same thing. There is no clear distinction between government land in any existing laws of Uganda. There is confusion when land is being allocated as to who has the authority or ownership of the land being allocated,” the report says.

Regarding ULC’s conduct of business, the findings show that there is lack of an effective working and collaborative relationship between the Commission and other partner institutions like local governments in the execution of its duties.

“This has resulted in double or even triple allocation of the same land to different developers with different lease titles, thus resulting in costly court cases that take long to resolve,” the report says.

There is also the case of the Commission allocating land to user institutions without involvement or reference to District Land Boards in the respective local governments. The Commission is further faulted for “misplaced emphasis and engagement in non-core activities” by, for instance, concentrating more on allocation of land to individual developers with little regard to purchasing land for current and future use by government, especially in prime urban areas.

“Currently, most government offices are in rented premises, spending staggering sums of money,” the report says.

It adds that in resettling people displaced by natural disasters, the ULC is not only performing a non-core function, but is also duplicating the responsibilities of the Office of the Prime Minister.

Lack of structures

The report further noted that ULC is too lean to carry out its mandate, has a narrow skill mix and provides for functions which could be divested to more appropriately skilled institutions, such as banks. The consequences of this arrangement include limited access to resources, failure to realize its mandate, misallocation and misappropriation of government/public assets and duplication of roles and responsibilities.

It is, therefore, proposed that ULC’s offices are regionalized, management is separated from the executive (chairman and commissioners to be part time) and that the Land Fund is relocated and domiciled to a financial institution with which ULC shall enter a memorandum of understanding.

Lack of funds

While ULC is in custody of a lot of public land, funding from government has been at a minimum, with Shs 7.2 billion of the Shs 8.6 billion allocated to the Commission since 2002 going to land compensation. This has resulted in failure to pay rates on properties occupied by government around the country (Shs 500 million per year), failure to acquire appropriate office space and logistics to keep delicate government assets under strong lock and key.

In order to remove overlaps, gaps and conflicts between ULC and other agencies charged with management of land-based resources, such as Uganda Properties Holdings Ltd, Uganda Investment Authority, and the National Forest Authority, among others, there should be a review of the law, the consultant advises.

The other recommendations include: appointment of a Commission lawyer on secondment from the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs; outsourcing of the services of valuers and surveyors on a case by case need basis rather than providing for them on ULC’s establishment and payroll, as well as the services of a physical planner.   

hbogere@observer.ug

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