During the ongoing on-the-ground public land hearings, the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led Commission of Inquiry into land matters has listened to many eyebrow-raising testimonies.
On Monday, the jolting testimonies were about the fast disappearing Bukasa Cemetery land owned by KCCA and the central district of Wakiso.
The commission heard from KCCA and Wakiso land board officials. The witnesses were quizzed by Ebert Byenkya, the lead counsel and his deputy John-Bosco Suuza. Zahra Abigaba recorded the proceedings. Below are excerpts.
Name: Mark Wambale, 42, KCCA director of physical planning
Suuza: Does KCCA own Bukasa cemetery land and how big is it?
Wambale: KCCA owns the cemetery but I don’t know the acreage; All I know is that it has been there for more than 30 years. Over the years it has been encroached on and given away. We do not have the full records of the ownership of the land.
Suuza: Have you visited the Bukasa Cemetery land of late?
Wambale: Personally, I have not.
Suuza: What records are you talking about?
Wambale: I have been able to see some internal communications made at the time we were trying to secure the land by fencing it.
Suuza: When did you try to fence the place?
Wambale: These correspondences are of 2012.
Suuza: What do they say and can you read them out?
Wambale: One of them is a memo dated 28th –May- 2012 addressed to the acting director Physical Planning. It was from the Acting District Staff Surveyor and Senior Physical Planner. The subject was fencing off Bukasa cemetery grounds.
Reference is made to the memo dated 4th April 2012 from the Director Legal Affairs asking for a status report on the validity of claims raised on the property vis-a-vis the authority proprietorship, progress of securing the certificate of title to the property and plans of the authority if any to evict or compensate the property [occupants] before the commencement of the fencing exercise …he goes on reading
Bukasa cemetery is located on public land in Kira Town Council under Wakiso Land Board. This was originally a very big chunk of land for KCCA estimated to be over 20 acres but over time it was encroached upon by many people. Some of the encroachers have been offered freehold land titles by Wakiso district land board.
These include; Tabliq sect Uganda that was offered two acres, Sian Brothers Company Limited given 10 acres and the Naguru Muslim Community are claiming about three acres.
And in 2008 the Wakiso District Land board granted KCCA a freehold in respect of the remaining portion of land whose area was not ascertained at the time of grant. The MEMO goes on…
There is need to urgently secure by fencing plots 389, 824 and 825, which are relatively encumbered. There is need to write to Wakiso District land board to cancel the title for plot 627, which was registered in the names of Herbert Kigundu Mugerwa yet the land was encumbered by multiple graves.
The Naguru Muslim community should be asked to show proof of ownership of the land and in the absence of proof of ownership this place should be fenced off by KCCA. The senior land officer should urgently initiate the process of titling all the encumbered land.
Suuza: What is the status of the implementation?
Wambale: I’m not sure of the status and that is why I need time to consult.
Bamugemereire: But you are the deputy director physical planning, why don’t you have information about this as part of your routine work?
Wambale: My lord, this matter was handled in 2012 and I do not know whether it was concluded or not, but ordinarily when property is owned by KCCA it is under our land management unit, we in the physical planning unit do not keep asking questions.
Bamugemereire: Does KCCA own any other cemetery apart from Bukasa cemetery?
Wambale: I know we do but I don’t have details at hand.
Suuza: What do you know about this land and its encroachment apart from the information you have gathered from the internal Memos?
Wambale: I do not have any more information that I can give to the commission.
Byenkya: This was former public land as you said [Uganda commission land] and it should have been allocated to KCCA at some point in order to create a cemetery, so surely there must be documentation or records about the property.
Wambale: It is not as easy as it sounds, we are actually struggling to find records and secure the properties.
Byenkya: Would that be a problem that in the process of creating KCC as an authority, there was a transition problem in getting records from the previous KCC?
Wambale: My lord being that I was not around during the transition, I do not know what could have happened but all I know is that we have records for some of the property.
Bamugemereire: Do we have active cemeteries that are run by KCCA and how many are they?
Wambale: My lord that question should be put to the land manager
Bamugemereire: You are the director physical planning and you do not know how many cemeteries are under KCCA…really?
Byenkya: What concerns the commission is that there is a lot of room for land originally meant for KCCA to disappear and it is just up for grabs yet we do not see any concerted effort by KCCA to fight for its rights. Instead KCCA is also fighting to grab a share of what is left yet it was the original owner of the land…I’m finding it hard to understand that…do you have something to say about that?
Wambale: I’m sorry but I know we are trying our best to secure various properties and personally I was not involved in this matter before.
Byenkya: Would you be able tell us which specific officers can give us more information regarding this matter?
Wambale: My lord the cemeteries are run by the Directorate of Public Health and Environment.
Byenkya: And who is in charge of that?
Wambale: Dr Okello Daniel Oyem
Byenkya: So is he in charge of cemeteries?
Wambale: Yes my lord.
Byenkya: In what way is he in charge?
Wambale: Cemeteries are a public health matter, they handle burials, so they are always aware of what is taking place.
Bamugemereire: We want you to go back and upraise yourself with the facts about Bukasa cemetery land and come back with full details of what is going on…it does not matter whether you have the land management team – as director you ought to know.
Name: Dickenson Akena, 37.
Title: Manager Land Management - KCCA
Suuza: I will take you to the memo your colleague just read dated 28th may 2012, are you familiar with it?
Akena: My lord I came in contact with this memo on Friday last week when I was trying to assist the acting director physical planning to dig up information regarding the summons he got from the commission of inquiry.
Suuza: And what have you learnt since Friday about the memo?
Akena: The information about the Bukasa cemetery, we as officers in the land management unit had not come across it before to enable us pursue the titling of the cemetery.
Suuza: To the best of your knowledge do you think Bukasa cemetery is still in use?
Akena: My lord I’m aware that they still dispose of bodies in the cemetery.
Suuza: Doesn’t that make it a very important piece of land as far as KCCA is concerned?
Akena: That is correct my lord.
Suuza: So if you say you knew nothing about the cemetery till last week, Friday, then what are we supposed to make out of that?
Akena: My lord my knowledge is only about the particular minute in the memo granting KCCA freehold but regarding the use and existence of the particular cemetery, we are aware that it is public property.
Bamugemereire: How many cemeteries are there in Kampala?
Akena: My lord…Lusazze cemetery in Lubaga division, Jinja road cemetery expired and is no longer used for disposal of bodies.
Bamugemeire: And what is the reason?
Akena: The cemetery is full and it was majorly a war cemetery. What it holds are remains of the war veterans and other people.
Bamugemereire: So one of these days we will find that even the remains will disappear and find tall buildings coming up at the Jinja road cemetery because you have said it has expired, is that the case?
Akena: My lord…when I say expired, it does not mean useless, it still remains useful as a cemetery.
Bamugemereire: So how are you ensuring that you are protecting that prime land?
Akena: When you look at the Jinja Road cemetery it is fenced off and right in the middle of the city center. Our law enforcers and other officers are also on alert to make sure that there is no encroachment.
Bamugemereire: Which are the other cemeteries?
Akena: Lusazze and Bukasa cemeteries are the major ones that I’m aware of.
Bamugemereire: What of the Lugogo bypass cemetery?
Akena: My lord …the Lugogo bypass cemetery appears to be owned by a certain sect of the Indian community and it is not one of the cemeteries under KCCA.
Bamugemereire: But it is land used for disposal of bodies, so how are you managing the land?
Akena: My lord…we are not the registered owners of that cemetery, that puts it out of our reach as KCCA. But for purposes of public health, the director public health has the mandate to look into the particular areas if they still dispose of bodies there.
Byenkya: From the information you have got, what was the original size of the [Bukasa] cemetery land?
Akena: My lord…I do not know the exact acreage of the cemetery.
Byenkya: The information the commission got is that it should be about 40 acres of land, would that be correct?
Akena: I wouldn’t know my lord.
Byenkya: Does KCCA have the freehold land title for the cemetery?
Akena: My lord we have not seen the title and we do not have it in our custody.
Byenkya: It is nine years already and there is no land title for the cemetery yet, what does that say about KCCA and its management of land.
Akena: My lord I will have to admit that there has been scanty information regarding Bukasa cemetery and that is why there are so many issues on encroachment. Nobody knows the exact acreage but as KCCA we are very committed to secure the public land back.
Byenkya: I’m wondering why KCCA would accept an interest less of what it was entitled to
Akena: My lord…it is always good to take what you have before you go for the rest.
Byenkya: Could it be true that there was conspiracy between people from KCCA and Wakiso land board because we cannot see efforts by KCCA to assert its rights.
Akena: My lord, honestly speaking, I cannot say so because I do not have anything to back it up.
Byenkya: The impression the commission is getting is that if the commission had not raised the Bukasa cemetery land issue it would have taken another 10 years and nobody would have bothered about the fate of the cemetery.
Akena: My lord… I do not want to say so but this is an eye opener.
Name: Jameson Mukaga, 45.
Title: Head of Zonal land office –Wakiso
Byenkya: What do you know about Bukasa cemetery land?
Mukaga: I did some investigation on this land and realized that between 2004 and 2006 this land was encroached on. But the Karamazov book [where you find the original owner of land] reveals that it was actually not 40 but 50 acres of land and it used to belong to KCCA.
Byenkya: In the Karamazov book you are able to establish when the ownership of KCCA was established or KCC, its predecessor?
Mukaga: The Karamazov book shows that the former owner was KCCA but I couldn’t establish when the authority acquired the land. But it [book] shows it used to belong to KCCA as a cemetery and then KCCA inadvertently left the land and encroachers came and settled on it.
When KCCA was applying for the title of the land, it did apply for only six acres of land instead of the former 50 acres. Reason for that my lord I cannot establish and the rest of the land was applied for by private people.
Byenkya: Can you let us know the timing of the KCCA application?
Mukaga: My lord, it was between 2004 and 2006 that is when the process was on.
Byenkya: Can you compare that timing with other applications for the rest of the land?
Mukaga: My lord it was the same timing. As KCCA applied, private individuals applied for the remaining land;
Byenkya: Exactly how much land did KCCA apply for?
Mukaga: My lord…they applied for 6 acres.
Byenkya: Did you find anything strange about the applications coming at the same time?
Mukaga: I did…it also surprised me that the owner of the land only applied for 6 acres and not 50 acres.