By Flavia Nassaka
Future of tertiary education threatened as public university land bonanza goes on unabated
Increasingly, public universities are losing large chunks of their land to private owners through dubious means. If not checked urgently, there is a fear that encroachment on land on which public education institution sit is likely to cause a crisis in the future as the institutions will not be able to expand to take care of the rising numbers of students. MP Alice Alaso, the chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC), says Parliament is desperate to deal with the situation. She says the committee is investigating how government officials use their offices to influence the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) to issue out land fraudulently.
Prof. Eli Katunguka, the vice chancellor of Kyambogo University, told The Independent that the institution’s land is like meat to greedy hyenas as it has become a target for powerful people who look at these institutions as lame ducks and believe that no one in these institutions is strong enough to resist their land grabbing schemes.
“For someone to grab university land and start developing it with impunity means there is someone giving him/her the muscle. What is interesting is that some people have titles but they are not reflected as having been curved off the Kyambogo land,” said Prof. Katunguka.
Alaso is calling for a policy that will require ULC not to issue out any public land without consulting the parties involved because it will be costly to the future generations. She reasons that with such encroachments, the institutions will lose capacity to cater for the rising student numbers and as result the requirements for joining these institutions will be set too high for many poor families to afford.
Makerere University Secretary David Kahundha calls for government intervention to save public universities’ land from private land grabbers. He says that Makerere University has a single land title for both the university and Katanga land.
Katunguka says Kyambogo University has verified its land with the Land Commission and it has placed a caveat on all of it but even that is proving to be useless.
“We have the land titles but it appears one can have other land titles developed even when you have your own title,” he says. He urges the Ministry of Lands to do something to protect institutional land and not to leave it to university administrators to deal with these very smart land grabbers.
Even land on which Makerere University Business School (MUBS) sits is not safe. The institution accuses ULS of leasing out their land without authorization from the relevant authorities.
On July 23, Alaso had a meeting with officials from MUBS at which Prof. Wasswa Balunywa, the principal, revealed that out of the 15.1 acres owned by MUBS in Bugolobi and Kireka, only two acres are in the university’s name.
He told the committee that some of the individuals who were leased part of the university’s land in Bugolobi include First Deputy Prime Minister Henry Kajura, Augustine Karugaba and the late tycoon Juvenal Nsenga, among others.
PAC on July 29 heard that one of the ministers in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Planning had usurped powers of Baguma Isoke, the chairperson of the Uganda Land Commission, to give away university land.
This was after the Committee tasked Baguma Isoke and the team he had led to explain circumstances under which land belonging to MUBS was fraudulently given out to ‘investors’ by the Commission.
Baguma Isoke told legislators on the Committee that one of the ministers whose name he refused to disclose had written instructions to him to back off the land in question.
The ministry is headed by Daudi Migereko who is deputized by State Minister Aidah Nantaba, Urban Planning State Minister Rose Najjemba and Housing State Minister Sam Engola.
The committee heard that the said individuals acquired the land in question through the commission under leasehold for a period between five to ten years. The leases were later suspiciously extended by another 20 to 99 years.
Makerere University is also fighting a court battle as its ownership of 37 acres of land in Katanga is in jeopardy. A one Mzee Jonathan Masembe claims that the institution acquired his land fraudulently in 1978.
Masembe has since sought a court injunction halting all developments on the land. In June, Justice Owiny Dollo toured the 37 acres of the disputed land after which he convened a court session at the offices of the LC1 Kimwanyi zone, to hear from key witnesses. Now, the fate of the land awaits the court’s decision.
In the case of Kyambogo University, the ministry asked for five acres of the land to develop their headquarters. This was granted and the land title was surrendered to the then permanent secretary who gave it to the land commission to demarcate off the five acres. But when the title was returned to the University Council, it was discovered that more plots of land were given out to unknown people. Efforts to identify the plot owners have been futile as they are said to have connections in Lands Office and higher offices. The story at other public institutions is not any different as the fear of land grabbers continues to hover over the heads of the administrators.