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Kampala land bonanza

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Museveni aide blocks donor project, wants Shs 1bn, State House cited in major land scams

A land dispute between President Yoweri Museveni’s Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi and the Nakawa Vocational Training Institute (NVTI) is standing in the way of a US$4.5 million (Shs 9 billion) project.

NVTI received the money as a grant from the South Korea government to construct an extension of a modern polytechnic institute on its 2.8 acres of land on Martyrs Road in Ntinda, a Kampala city suburb. According to a Memorandum of Understanding signed between NVTI and the Korea International Cooperation Agency, the polytechnic institute when constructed will help “develop the skills of young Ugandans to improve employability and equip the institute with modern equipments necessary for the training”.

NVTI is one of the schools helping the Ministry of Education role out skills development in Business Technical and Vocational Training (BTVET) institutions making it more responsive to market needs. The project that was supposed to commence in 2008 is yet to start.

Mirundi, whom NVTI argues acquired the land fraudulently from the Uganda Lands Commission (ULC), is insisting on being compensated Shs 1 billion to vacate the land. Because of the importance NVTI attaches to the project, it attempted to settle the matter amicably so as to expedite the construction work and offered to give Shs 20 million as premium to Mirundi but in vain.

Mirundi told The Independent he owns land legally.

“The project has a lot of money. They should give me compensation of Shs 1 billion and the matter will be settled. I cannot be intimidated. Even churches buy land where they construct yet they say this world belongs to God. They should compensate me. I did not steal that land.”

But NVTI Board of governors, the Ministries of Education and Justice say the school cannot buy its own land.

The matter is before the Nakawa Magistrate’s Court which put a caveat restraining Mirundi and NVTI from carrying out any activities on the land in dispute which measures 0.27 acres (1083.3 square metres) located on Plot 19-21 Martyrs Road Ntinda. The disputed land sits in the middle of plots 3-5, 7-9, 11- 3, 15-17, 23, 25, 27-29, 38 and 39 (on the same road) also owned by NVTI. These plots contain houses for  NVTI staff; which land the institute wants to develop. Whereas Tamale says he is the rightful owner, NVTI says it has been the owner and occupant of the land since 1977. The properties on this land have been housing NVTI teaching staff for decades. But on Sept. 21, 2010, Mirundi demolished one of staff houses on the land in dispute after it had been burnt under unclear circumstance.

How Mirundi got land

In 2007 the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) issued a land lease title to Mirundi. Details indicate that Mirundi made the commission believe the land was unoccupied. It later emerged Mirundi allegedly forged the documents he presented to the ULC to get the NVTI land according to a Feb. 9, 2011 letter written by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

Acting on the said forged documents, the ULC offered Mirundi the land without consent of the bonafide owner NVTI. When the anomaly was discovered, the ministry asked ULC to cancel the lease given to Mirundi and give the land to NVTI. But Mirundi was not willing to give up the land without a fight. He sued NVTI and the ULC.

In the interest of the US$4.5 million polytechnic school project, NVTI offered to settle the matter out of court and the ministry of Education asked the Ministry of Lands and ULC to find an alternative for Mirundi. The alternative land in Namanve/Bweyogerere was rejected by Mirundi. When The Independent asked Mirundi why he rejected the land he did not give any reason.

On October 19, 2010 then-Minister for Lands, Omara Atubo, wrote to the ULC instructing it to cancel Mirundi’s land title that “was wrongfully issued because the land belonged to NVTI”. Atubo cautioned ULC that “Land belonging to public institutions must be zealously protected.”

Since then NVTI is yet to get land titles to its land in Ntinda although ULC says it is surveying the said land before it processes the title. When President Yoweri Museveni visited Ntinda last year, the residents wrote a memorandum asking the President to rein in his aide to leave the land belonging to NVTI so that construction of a polytechnic school that will benefit several Ugandans be allowed to commence. But sources from NVTI say the issue about the project was deleted from the memorandum handed to the President. On its part, last year NVTI wrote to its staff occupying the houses to leave to pave way for the construction of a polytechnic institute but the staff requested for a year’s grace period to organize alternative accommodation and allow their school-going children in candidate classes to complete school.

The Koreans say they will only start constructing the school only if the land dispute is settled within reasonable time. As a requirement of the Memorandum of Understanding, NVTI was supposed to provide land and government of Uganda would commit to contribute extra 10% of the grant to meet other costs of constructing the school.

The dilemma of NVTI is akin to one at Kololo Senior Secondary School, one of Uganda’s secondary schools with the biggest number of day school programme students under the Universal Secondary Education (USE).

Kololo SS sits on 10 acres of land; and it first lost 2 acres in 2007 to an investor who constructed housing units, in 2010 the school lost 2 more acres to another investor, and today it stands to lose 3 acres.  More than half of Kololo SSS land has been taken by “powerful people with State House connections”.

The school administration says one Cecilia Lwanga has fenced off plot 59-68 along Lugogo Bypass on which the school planned to build the classrooms. The investors whom the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Education, Xavier Lubanga offered part of Kololo SS land “because it was a wetland hard for the school to develop” include Kalahari Investments Ltd and Himalaya Traders, which were allegedly fronted by people linked to State House.
The school had secured a US$2 million (approx. Shs 4 billion) grant from the African Development Bank to build 12 modern classrooms but its board of governors says the school is now left with no land to build classroom blocks for the rising number of students USE.

Other public institutions whose land has been taken by individuals connected to State House and the government include Butabika Hospital, Buganda Road Primary School, Makerere University land in Kololo, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, and Shimoni Demonstration School and Teachers Training College.

The Uganda Land Commission has on several occasions been accused of fraudulently giving away public land. In 2010, ULC was accused of selling Kololo SS land without the knowledge of the school authorities and the Ministry of Education. But in the case of NVTI land ULC chairman, Joash Mayanja Nkangi, says he was “not aware of the lease to Tamale Mirundi and he (Mirundi) forged some ULC documents”.

The Uganda Land Commission could not readily tell how much land is under its custody when The Independent visited its office although it is tasked with holding and managing public land. Officials of the Commission kept on referring to the inventory which they could not find.

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