It has been said, perhaps without actual statistics but largely true, that between Kampala City and Entebbe Municipality alone, there are more forged land titles circulating than real ones. I have personally come across or heard about a dozen or more such forged titles only since the beginning of this year.
It would appear that the manufacturers of the forged land titles who are mainly sitting in the Ministry of Lands are receiving bulging briefs from land thieves as bona fide purchasers for value without notice. They are assisted in this fraudulent trade by both unsuspecting and knowledgeable lawyers. In one or two forgeries, it will be hard for the lawyers involved not to have known or suspected that the land titles they were instructed to handle were mere forgeries. The fact that knowing about these forgeries, they continued representing guilty clients, is clear evidence that they themselves, the lawyers, were accomplices.
To my knowledge, many victims of these forgeries have lodged complaints, in many instances in writing to the relevant authorities without any transparent reaction from those authorities. I have personally taken actions upon those members of the public that reported to me.
I have compiled and listed half a dozen or so of the worst forged titles and brought them to the attention of the Ministry of Lands. I have had discussions with at least two senior officers of the ministry and presented a sample of the forgeries with promises from the officers that they will investigate and act on them with the urgency they deserve. The Minister concerned and I had discussions on these land thefts and forgeries and he solemnly undertook to act on them immediately. I even offered to assist his ministry in unveiling the causes of this tragic problem. This is months ago. Apparently, according to sources close to the Minister’s office, he has been too busy in his office or travelling abroad to do anything about the complaints. In our meeting, he seemed to believe what I was telling him. It is months now since I lodged the complaint on behalf of so many citizens and voters, and my cries appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
My subsequent inquiries and letters including sending some to the Registry with written proof of forged land titles have gone unheeded and with no response whatsoever. In one of my regular telephonic reminders at the Ministry, one official was very uncooperative and rude.
When I suggested that she could obtain a copy of a certain newspaper which would enlighten the Minister further on the matter, the official claimed, perhaps rightly, that the Ministry cannot afford to spend two thousand shillings (Shs2000) that would be needed to buy the newspaper that day because government does not allocate newspaper money to the ministry. On further inquiries, I learned that the information I was given on that subject was not exactly the truth or the whole truth. I detected a reluctance on the part of officials in the Ministry to let the Minister know the truth.
I next wrote to the Uganda Law Society alerting its officers that there is ample evidence that some of their members may be implicated in shoddy land deals either on their own behalf or as counsel for dishonest land dealers. I named one firm of lawyers which I suspected to be deeply involved in the allegations. I was surprised about the action a representative of the Law Society took. He alerted the suspected culprits to negotiate with me and as I write I have not heard anything more from the Law Society. Up to now I do not know what the Law Society meant by negotiation. The practitioners of these forgeries cite relevant laws selectively or hide from their clients and victims rules which outlaw their malpractices.
Sales and purchases of property including land are governed by two Acts of Parliament, namely, the Sale of Goods Act and the Registration of Titles Act. Section 22 of the first named Act provides that where goods are sold by a person who is not the owner of the goods and who does not sell them under the authority or with the consent of the owner, the buyer acquires no better title to the goods than the seller had unless the owner of the goods is by his or her conduct precluded from denying the seller’s authority to sell.
Section 77 of the Registration of Titles Act provides that any certificate in the registration book procured or made by fraud, shall be void as against all parties or privies to the fraud. However, the forgers, their accomplices, ignore the clear provisions of the law and instead hide behind Section 88 of the Registration of Titles Act which protects a bona fide purchaser for value without notice. Such protection can only arise if the purchaser or anyone else has not breached section 22 and Section 77 respectively.
How can learned friends of the legal profession not know that section 88 applies only if Section 22 Sale of Goods Act and Section 77 of the RTA have been fulfilled first? It would appear also that none has ever heard about the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of the Zaabwe V. Orient Bank and Others.
Ugandans must urge the President to set up a Commission of Inquiry for the Ministry of Lands and its appropriate departments.
Dr G. W. Kanyeihamba is a retired Justice of the Supreme Court and a former Attorney General under President Museveni’s government. He is now a legal consultant in private practice.