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Scramble for Kampala land

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

Lukwago, Musisi, Land Board fight to control prime city plots

Immediately the now indicted George Agaba took office at Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), he raised uproar with directives he made about the management of the city’s public land.

As acting Director for Physical Planning, Agaba instructed the technical staff under him to take over the functions of the Kampala District Land Board which manages the city’s most prime land, including most of the Central Business District, Kampala Road, and the Kololo, Bugolobi and Mbuya suburbs.

Traditionally, Kampala district is 17,630 hectares big. About 45% of this land is private mailo, 27% is controlled by the Buganda kingdom under the Kabakaship, and 3% is freehold. The remaining 25% constitutes the public land with 15% directly under KCCA and 10% controlled by the Kampala district Land Board on behalf of the people.

However, the land directly under KCCA is mostly occupied by commercial buildings, markets, health centres, recreational grounds, offices and schools and the city managers say it “is being wiped out”.

President Yoweri Museveni has donated a lot of it to investors, genuine and fake, and his officials have followed suit. In 2010, then-mayor Nasser Ssebaggala caused up to 500 prime plots formerly under the city authority to become private mailo. This single move meant government and city officials, their friends, relatives, and friends got prime land in the city for just Shs 100,000 (approx. 5 bunches of matooke) each plot.

Kampala District Land board officials, therefore, say they were upset and pointed out that Agaba’s directives were unlawful and had a sinister motive. Agaba’s objective, they suspected, was not on improving the management of land and raising more revenue for KCCA.

When Agaba and his bodyguard were later involved in an eviction-gone-awry in the suburb of Mutungo, leading to at least one death, even Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago says the suspicions of selfish motives were confirmed.

“We have information Agaba was trying to evict these people in order to create a plot for someone, the information will come out,” Lukwago charged after the incident.

Lukwago’s suspicion of Agaba’s intentions is similar to stories around fights over land managed by the land board since the changeover from KCC to KCCA.

A number of new leaders at KCCA, both from the political and administrative wings, say the current composition of the Kampala District Land Board is a recipe for corruption and want to either disband or neutralise it.

The Lord Mayor has asked for a status report of the Land Board and wants to launch a probe into its operations.

They say the current Land Board was appointed by the former Kampala City Council (KCC) under Ssebaggala which they deem to have been corrupt. On different occasions, Executive Director Jennifer Musisi has talked about the ‘filth’ that was part of the old administration that she needs to clean up. Lord Mayor Lukwago’s election campaign platform too was anchored on cleaning up Kampala’s administration.

The current Kampala District Land board was appointed in 2010 and comprises Yusuf Nsibambi, chairman, and Lubuulwa Kyeyune, John Kiwanuka, Moses Lwanyaga, Mariam Musoke, Joyce Nayiga and Ntege F. Ssebaggala as members.

Opposition control

Officially, KCCA and the central government are unhappy that to control, allocate, or use public land in the city, they must seek permission from the opposition-controlled Land Board. Chairman Nsibambi is the Buganda vice president of the opposition forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party.

KCCA, whose Executive Director, Jennifer Musisi is allied to the ruling NRM,  was forced to apply to the Land Board when it wanted land to build a market at Kalerwe and the government had to apply when the army wanted more land for its barracks in Mbuya. In both cases, the Land Board advised that they first compensate sitting tenants.

Even when President Yoweri Museveni wanted the Coffee Marketing Board land in Bugolobi to be allocated to a Libyan company, the Land Board advised that there was need for a parliamentary resolution converting this land from Coffee Marketing Board to private investment before they would process the lease.

KCCA officials say they now want to directly control the land to avoid such inconveniences.

But the land board members have their own interpretation of the new efforts to usurp their authority. Two of them separately told this reporter that by pushing to control land in the city, the new city administrators aim to milk the land for selfish benefit.

“They want control to award themselves leases,” a member of the land board said, adding that they have had to withstand pressure from “powerful people” not to renew expired leases in prime areas of the city.

The Land Board leases out the city’s public land for both public and private use subject to payment of premium and ground rent. On expiry of a lease, the lease holder has the first opportunity to renew if he is interested and can meet the new lease conditions.

But a member of the Land Board says when leases expire, “People in power pressure us to unfairly decline to renew the old leases and award leases to others.” The Independent cannot name the “people in power” cited since no evidence was provided because, our source said, such requests are never written down, and are usually “communicated through agents”.

Land is important because it is KCCA’s main source of local revenue and there is potential for it to yield much more.

When a lease is awarded, the lease holder pays an agreed lump sum (premium) and then starts paying ground rent every year until the lease expires. The ground rent for the first year goes to the land board with the premium and ground rent for the rest of the years going to the KCCA account.

Unfortunately, Nsibambi, the chairperson of the Kampala District Land Board, says they have no up-to-date inventory, which affects collection of revenue. The land board uses KCCA staff to collect the premiums and rents.

Latest information indicates that by 2010, the city was collecting Shs 5 million per year from each plot as ground rent and could collect up to Shs 2.5 billion. Since the ground rent is 10 percent of the premium for the plot after valuation, the city authority would, therefore, collect up to Shs 25 billion in premiums. At the time, the city authority was raising only Shs 35 billion from local revenue which includes other taxes. But KCCA finances, especially issues relating to land transactions, are shrouded in secrecy, vagueness, and opacity.

Convenient confusion

The Kampala Capital City Authority Act 2010, which set up the KCCA, has added to the chaos by remaining silent on the issue of public land.

Some MPs like Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze want to base on the Act to kick out the Land Board.  Shortly after being appointed Shadow Minister for Kampala, Nambooze told parliament that since the law gives Kampala a special status, the continued operation of the Kampala District Land Board under KCCA is a “grave anomaly” and is “unconstitutional”.

Nambooze is closely allied to Lord Mayor Lukwago. Both are from the opposition Democratic Party (DP) fold and her statement was understood to carry Lukwago’s views.

Nambooze took issue with the word “district” in the name of the land board, saying that even if the board were to be converted to be called Kampala Capital City Authority Land Board, “the Constitution does not envisage it and would therefore be unconstitutional”.

Nambooze argued that Articles 239 and 240 of the Constitution, which put control of any Land in Uganda vested in or acquired by the Government in the hands of the Uganda Land Commission and provide for the existence of a land board for every District respectively, don’t apply in the case of Kampala since the same Constitution gives the city a special status.

“In total disregard of the fact that Kampala Capital City Authority is a custodian of land on behalf of the public and its own behalf,” Nambooze said, “the Kampala Capital City Authority Act 2010 does not have a single section providing for the existence of a land board or management of land in the city.”

Lukwago refused to comment on Nambooze’s statements but told The Independent that he asked for a status report to examine the operations of the Land Board and commenting on the matter would be “prejudicial”.

Land board shoots back

But Agaba had made similar claims when he attempted to usurp the powers of the Land Board and its Chairman, Nsibambi, had responded to Agaba in writing.

Taking issue with Agaba’s claim that the Kampala Capital City Authority does not provide for its (Land Board) functioning, Nsibambi wrote that the Kampala District Land Board is a creation of the Constitution and it would require a constitutional amendment to abolish it.

Quoting clauses in the Constitution and the Land Act 1998, Nsibambi wrote that in the performance of its functions, the land board “shall be independent of the Uganda Land Commission and shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.”

Offering an interpretation of Article 237 of the Constitution, Nsibambi said the government or municipal authorities ceased to hold land and all the statutory leases which originally belonged to Kampala City Council were vested in the District Land Board with the coming into force of the Constitution in 1995.

Quoting the 1998 Land Act, Nsibambi informed Agaba that district land boards are established as bodies corporate with perpetual succession, which “presupposes continuity and your instruction affects even collection of ground rent from leases”.

Nsibambi added that because land boards are supposed to hold land on behalf of the people, this explains why the membership of the Board includes representatives from each county of the district.

“In the furtherance of its functions the Board is assisted by land committees established under Section 64 of the Land Act which are not housed by the City Council of Kampala, wrote Nsibambi.

“This implies that the function of land management under the constitution is not under the Local Governments Act, though our existence must be in harmony and close cooperation with the Authority.”

Nsibambi said the silence of the KCCA Act, which has elaborate provisions on other statutory boards/committees like the District Service Commission and the Tender/Audit Committees, “was not an oversight but deliberate”.

Regarding the name of the board carrying the word “district”, Nsibambi turned to the KCCA Act, quoting Section 5(4), “Any enactment that applies to a district shall, subject to this Act and with the necessary modifications, apply to the Authority.” He said the word district is just a geographical description.

“In fact, your department as a planning unit is established in the Fifth Schedule Part A to the KCCA Act as a Directorate,” Nsibambi concluded, “With due respect such a Directorate may not wield so much power as to almost disband a statutory body created by the Constitution and an Act of Parliament.”

Nsibambi told The Independent that his board is insulated from the direction or control of politicians. He said, to uphold the independence of the board, the salaries of the members are directly charged on the Consolidated Fund and the activities of the board are supervised by the commissioner for land inspectorate in the ministry of Lands.

Historical twist

Fights over Kampala’s public land are not new. Former Mayor Ssebaana Kizito told The Independent when he took over as Kampala mayor, he thought he would have control over the land until “I was advised by the then Chairman Kiyimba Kaggwa that indeed the Land Board was independent of KCC”.

But Ssebaana’s council went ahead to give away a significant amount of the city land to private investors, including the controversial award of city markets and the Constitutional Square to businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba. Such dubious allocations feed the current suspicion of the intentions of KCCA, the Land Board, and Lukwago. It appears whoever gets control over it has tended to run off with a piece.

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