Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry into land matters Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire has announced fresh probe into the ownership of former public land in the country.
She says the new probe will centre on pieces of former public lands owned by Land registrars in the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development as well as wealthy civil servants and men and women serving in the armed forces.
Bamugemereire says the inquiry relates to allegations that most of the vast former public lands found in Nakasongola and Karamoja Sub regions are owned by a handful of wealthy individuals in government.
She says the Commission has been persuaded to inquire into the issue by numerous witness testimonies – all pointing to one direction collusion or corruption.
“Some of the witnesses we have heard have said some of the land are registered barely two days after their leases elapse. It seems the wealthy keep checking for when they will fall vacant for them to dive on” she stated on Thursday afternoon while chairing a session investigating how Buruli ethnic group lost their land in the 1900s.
The Deputy Attorney General and the Minister of Constitutional Affairs of Buruli Chiefdom, Sande Bwanga Rogers who had brought a petition from his Cultural leader Mwatyansozi Constantine Mwogezi Butamanya pursuing the return of 14 estates they lost during colonial struggles with Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom.
Bwanga urged the Commission to find merit in their petition and investigate Land registrars in the Ministry of Lands alongside soldiers of Uganda People’s Defense Forces for amassing former public lands in their areas at the expense of the poor who they immediately evict without compensation.
He accused the registrars of facilitating land grab in the country by transferring former public lands against constitutional provisions prioritizing sitting tenants without consultations or warnings.
“My Lord, such wealthy people force very high population of people to occupy a small fraction as 100 out of 500 acres of land under the pretext that they want to use it for productions. This is unfair and only leading to more desperation among the people” he explained adding that most of the lands are owned by absentee landlords comprising soldiers, Members of Parliaments and land registrars themselves – some of whom have never reached the said land or know their locations.
Last week, a group of elders from Karamoja sub-region brought a similar complaint saying most of the land in the region were transacted from Kampala without consulting neighbours as required by law. They urged the Commission to probe and recommend to government to institute limits to the maximum size of land an individual can legally own.
The Buruli delegation which also included the chiefdom’s Prime Minister Samuel M.G Kasirye and the technical advisor of the cultural leader Christopher Bagonza proposed that the maximum land size be capped at One square mile for each individual to allow more Ugandans access land for production.
Former Attorney General Frederick Ruhindi, one of the Commissioners said although the recommendation for capping the maximum land size sounds appealing, exceptions should be made to it because some investors require large swathes of land for capital development for public goods.
Some land registrars have already admitted before the Commission that they transferred certain pieces of land under duress, corruption and intense intimidations from sections of some government officials including Members of Parliament, soldiers and Ministers.
Many senior land registrars, seniors officers of Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) have testified before the Commission over some of the land they own in former public lands across the county including Gen. Charles Otema Awany, the Commander of the UPDF Reserve Forces over former public lands he acquired in Nwoya district in Northern Uganda.
The petition falls under the first Mandate of the Land Commission of Inquiry set up in 2017 to among others inquire into law, processes and procedures of managing and registering land in Uganda. The others relates to effectiveness of Uganda Land Commission to manage the Uganda Land Fund and Public lands on behalf of the government of Uganda.