Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The State Minister for Lands Persis Namuganza has accused former Land Minister Betty Amongi and Land Commission chairperson Beatrice Byenkya of interfering in her work, and leading to the reported current mess in the lands sector
She has attributed the mess in land compensation to management style of the current chairperson of the commission Byenkya, and Amongi, who is now Minister for Kampala and Metropolitan affairs.
Amongi has dismissed the accusations, saying Namuganza simply refused to know her place in Government, and had no idea what the role of a full minister and state minister is.
“When the minister of state thinks she is the full minister, and thinks when you are the state minister for something, then the senior minister should not do anything, then then person has a problem. The land law gives the minister the legal mandate to oversee and give policy directives the land commission,” said Amongi.
State minister Namuganza this week made a wide range of accusations and produced documents to back her claims, when she was appearing before the Adhoc Committee of Parliament investigating compensation of sh7.6 billion shillings.
Ministers contradict themselves
Appearing before the Adhoc Committee, the Namuganza and current Lands Minister Beti Olive Kamya argued and contradicted themselves openly.
Together with Lands Ministers Kamya, they spent the entire Friday trying to get to the bottom of the Medard Kiconco dispute over his land in Kyadondo, Lusanja, in Mpererwe and land belonging to Ephraim Entreprises which was occupied by Ndeeba church before it was razed down under curfew at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
Both land owners were to receive sh3.8 billion.
Also approved is another sh12.1 billion to compensate six landlords from Bunyoro for their land acquired by government pending eviction, Kosiya Rwabukurukuru who is demanding sh6.4 billion , Stephen Nagenda with sh1.6 billion, and Julius Busululwa who is demanding sh2.2 billion .
Others claimants are Natalia Namuli who is demanding sh1.6 billion Shillings, Yisaka Lwakana who is demanding sh1.17 billion and Geoffrey Mugisha who demands sh1.5 billion.
Although Parliament was due to approve the money, it was deferred and the matter sent to the Adhoc committee led by Chairperson Veronica Eragu Bichetero and two others, Kumi MP Cyrus Aogon, and Kasilo MP Elijah Okupa.
This is because the chairperson of the Uganda Land Commission said that the Ministry of Lands which had tabled this request had usurped the power of the commission. She also imputed massive criminality by claiming that the ministry was paying already paid persons, and also that the acreage was inflated.
Namuganza blamed the former Minister of Lands Amongi for meddling in compensation by giving her own list priority and giving orders to everyone at the commission and ministry.
Namuganza said she ran to President Yoweri Museveni over the micro management of the fund, and when she was advised by the President to write to Amongi, the minister didn’t listen, forcing the President to call for formation of a sub committee on the fund meant to sieve out the people to be compensated.
Amongi had her own list
She says that although this committee worked well for two quarters, Amongi reverted to her old ways of directing who should be paid, ignoring the commission, fellow ministers and even the committee.
“The Minister Amongi would write her own list of people to pay. Later when the sub-committee was formed, the Lands Minster wrote to the secretary saying do not pay before I approve. Any person or any authority, making any directions, refer them to my office,” Namuganza said.
Namuganza said that this is when the subcommittee and her ministry started heated exchanges with Amongi, and the structures at the commission were undermined. She says she was left redundant as the minister declared her self the only person to clear land compensation.
She says the land fund was at the centre of their bickering, something which destroyed the working relation in the ministry between the two ministers and some staff as there was no team work. She claims that everyone was left in the dark by the minister.
Namuganza also accused the current chairperson Byenkya of single handedly deciding who should benefit from the fund after the exit of Amongi.
She told the committee that Byenkya is the major cause of the problem at the commission, as she fired four people genuinely recruited by public service and has replaced them with friends and a relative.
She also claims that Byenkya is greatly feared by staff, since she uses an iron fist in handling anything to do with compensation.
Namuganza also says that when she proposed to Byenkya to use the sub committee, she rejected it and cracked down on it preferring to handle the matter of compensation alone. She says she has been left redundant at the ministry, as the chair of the commission is unadvisable.
She says the Land Commission Bill before Parliament should resolve these issues, and ensure the land commission is checked.
Kamya explains her role
On the other hand, committee chairperson Veronica Eragu Bichetero asked Lands Minister Beti Kamya to explain the procedure she followed to request the supplementary and if due process was done to pay the landlords.
Kamya told the committee that she acted through a presidential directive which was both through a phone call and a letter written by the Principle Private Secretary to the President.
“The President can go to Kibale, and find a problem and says ‘I will compensate you’. The President will write to the Minister, not the commission…..you are not going to question the presidents directive,” Kamya said.
Kamya told the parliamentary committee that the president met the families of Muzei Rwabukurukuru, and asked that compensation be done without delay. Correspondence on this matter, she stressed, included the President and the attorney general.
“She has refused a list generated from cabinet chaired by the President. In this case, a chuch has been demolished according to some faulty government systems but she wants the money sent to her, that she is independent,” Kamya added.
She says that although the supplementary was stopped allegedly because the Ministry didn’t consult the commission, this is not true as she copied the commission in all her letters requesting for the supplementary. Kamya said although the land commission is the administrator of government land, the law allows the Minister to make a request to cabinet or the Ministry of finance in regards to a vote under the Ministry.
She also told the committee that for all the six land owners due for compensation, due diligence was followed as they already existed in the system, were verified, their land was surveyed and valued and part payment was made.
Amongi blasts Namuganzi
When contacted, Betty Amongi denied all the allegations stating that Namuganza sought to assuming powers that she never had.
Amongi says that she was the head of the Ministry, and a presidential directive came straight to her, and that’s why Namuganza claims she mismanaged the process.
She says the law gave her the legal mandate on policy directives to Uganda Land Commission.”That is why there is a Minister and State Minister,” she replied when asked to explain her role.
Amongi says she took charge of the land fund, because the President writes to the Minister and not the commission chairperson.
The chairperson of the Commission Beatrice Byenkya also denied the allegations against her, saying it is the Ministers who are frustrating the work of the commission. She says she has asked the Ministers to investigate her, if at all she was in any wrong.
Although the Land commission is mandated to manage government estates and act independently, Article 55 of the Land Act requires that in the performance of its functions under the constitution, Uganda Land Commission shall conform to the policy of the government in relation to land matters.
It also says that subject to the constitution, the Minister may without prejudice to any other powers he or she may have under this Act, give to the commission such policy directions as are necessary to ensure compliance with subsection and the commission shall give effect to the directions.
This, it turns out from Namuganzi testimony to the parliamentary committee, has all been at the centre of conflict, with both the Ministry and Commission seeking to take full charge of the land compensation process.