Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Two registered owners of the disputed land in Wakiso district facing investigations at the Land Commission of Inquiry for selling to government land with encumbrances have refused to refund 7.4 Billion shillings paid to them.
They are Paul Bukenya and Engineer Dick Lutaya, both Kampala residents. They say the matter will now be sorted outside the Land Commission of Inquiry, in the High Court.
Their lawyer Professor Frederick Ssempebwa told the Land Commission of Inquiry on Tuesday afternoon that his clients have opted to go to court to challenge Commissioner for Land Registration in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development for double titling of the same piece of land to their clients and others.
Prof. Ssempebwa says the directive issued by the Attorney General William Byaruhanga on September 13th seeking to compel their clients to refund the money cannot be implemented without cancellation of the title, against which they have instruction from their clients to litigate.
Uganda Free Zone Authority (UFZA), a government agency under the Ministry of Privatization and Investment procured the land in 2017 for setting up duty free export zone, next to Entebbe International Airport, from the two proprietors through a bid prepared by Katende, Ssempebwa and Company Advocates serving as their commissioners of oath at approximately 7 Billion shillings.
About 1 Billion Shillings went to a group of Law firm known as Kirya and Company Advocates, allegedly representing the interests of three occupants on the land. Other fractions went towards facilitating the procurement, payment of stamp duties, withholding tax and Premium to Civil Aviation Authority from whom another 5 acres of land was procured.
Uganda Free Zones Authority has since failed to secure title and possession of the land after its ownership was challenged by a group of Estate Administrators led by Augustine Bukenya, a resident of Mityana. Since their claims, more residents from Buwaya have come out to state claims over the same land saying its fraudulent transfer has touched on their interests and livelihoods.
The disputed land measuring 102 acres is located in Busiiro, Buwaya Block 535 – 540 Plot 283 and 236 in Entebbe, Wakiso district. Professor Ssempebwa says his clients who have been dealing with them over the same piece of acquired 456 acres of the land more than Four years ago from Alexander Gabunga Ndiwalana, a member of the Kabaka’s Marine regiment who owned and occupied the area in the 1920s.
“Documents in the Ministry of Lands indicate that Gabunga’s interests were first registered in 1924 before it was renewed in 2007 on a White Page to secure a proper title for it. My understanding is that this could have been done by the Administrator-General to protect the interests of the historical owner Alexander Gabunga Ndiwalana” he told the Commission.
According to Professor Ssempebwa, there are indicators that the Ministry of Lands Commissioned the Criminal Act of double titling of the land. He says the Acting Commissioner Land Registrations Robert Opiyo has admitted in a letter he wrote suggesting that Augustine Bukenya Muwuluzi and siblings be compensated.
“The same letter is silent on the fact that our client’s title be cancelled, in which case proper statutory procedures must be followed to first declare the title fraudulent before it is cancelled under the current law. It also recommends that the interests of Augustine Bukenya and others be bought off by government through compensation. Why would the Commissioner for Land registration recommend Compensation if he knows for sure that our client’s title is flawed?” he asked.
Prof. Ssempebwa was cross-examined by the Land Commission of Inquiry Lead Counsel Ebert Byenka.
On Monday, Richard Jabo, the Executive Director of Uganda Free Zones Authority appeared before the Land Commission of Inquiry to explain the due diligence followed in acquiring the property among others. He said the procurement was handled under the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority Act of 2003 instead of the amended Land Acquisition Act.
Jabo explained that they based their decision to pay for the property after, among others land officials, the Acting Commissioner Land Registration Robert Opiyo cleared the transaction, a major indication that the title held by Paul Bukenya and Engineer Dick Lutaya were valid.
More witnesses are expected to appear over the matter before the Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire led Land Commission of Inquiry.
The matter is being investigated under the first and fifth mandates of the Land Commission of Inquiry concerned with double titling of land as well as management and registration of land by Ministry of Lands and the district Land boards.