Rights Activists Fear Government Is Sanctioning Land Grabbing Through Constitution Amendments

Godber Tumushabe, (2nd left), the   Associate director (GLISS) speaking at the national dialogue COURTESY PHOTO Godber Tumushabe, (2nd left), the Associate director (GLISS) speaking at the national dialogue

By Doris Atwijukire

The call was made during the National Dialogue on Land and Extractives, under the theme, “Harnessing citizen participation for good governance and sustainable livelihoods,” at Hotel Africana on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

The National Dialogue was jointly organized by Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED), Action Aid Uganda (AAU), Saferworld Uganda and Transparency International Uganda (TIU).

The dialogue was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Members of Parliament, districts leaders, community representatives, religious leaders, cultural leaders and representatives of CSO organizations.

Godber Tumushabe, the   Associate director, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS), said the rush for and commoditization of land is as a result of macro-economic policies pursued by government and warned that the policies are not going to change. He added that Uganda’s land policy is always in transition and thus has never been concluded. 

"The proposed amendment of Article 26 of the Constitution that empowers government to take possession of property before compensation occurs pending the determination by the court of the compensation payable in the event that the parties are unable to agree on the fair and adequate compensation payable, is a plot to officially sanction land grabbing under the guise of investments," Tumushabe said, adding that there is an alliance of the military, political and business elites that is marginalizing the citizens.

Esther Obaikol, Executive Director, Land Net and a land governance expert, explained that Article 26 of the constitution is one of the most important provisions in the constitution because it entrenches property rights – economic interest supported by law, what one can own legally as a person.  Property in Article 26 is not just land but entire property including real property.

“Currently, the Constitution is very progressive, but not implemented and before we implement it, we want it amended. There is no procedure on how people can get compensated. Government should think of giving property owners a stake and create a model for people to develop with the business not to throw them off land,” Obaikol said adding that people should be part of the project and not evicted for the project.

Agaba Simon Kinene, the Buliisa district chairman, said the proposed amendment will not only legalize and worsen eviction but also communities will be rendered landless. “Out of experience, a poor person can’t win a case in Uganda, more so, a land case. Therefore, the proposed amendment is unfair, since it will subject, poor people to court over land. Court processes are protracted and expensive for the people.” He said, stating that local governments, mainly districts councils have not been consulted on the proposed Amendment, and implored the central government to first consult them [district councils].

Francis Mwijukye (MP Buhweju) said if Mps are worried, district leader are worried, local communities are worried, then there must be somebody who wants to take citizen’s land and not government. There are people who want to takeover.  He urged local leaders to stand with their people and oppose the proposed amendment. Laws, he said must be made to serve the people but not the people to serve the laws.

The proposed amendment will cause injustices and worsen citizens’ right to own property particularly the oil communities. This is because the amendment comes at the most critical time when government is in the process of acquiring large chucks of land for the construction of oil infrastructures in the Albertine region.

The plans to endanger Ugandan’s land rights protection under Article 26 of the Constitution is not new in the face of most Ugandans. Government has consistently made several attempts since the passing of the Constitution in 1995.The most recent being the resolutions arising out of the Kyankwanzi NRM leadership retreat in July 2016. In these resolutions, it was agreed that “Government shall propose expeditious amendments to the Constitution, the Land Act and other relevant laws, to enable Government acquire land for the timely implementation of public works.”

According to the media reports, Minister Betty Amongi reportedly said that the proposed amendments were premised on the bureaucratic tendencies involved in compensation of the project-affected persons, which tend to stall projects.

The 2017 Transparency International Uganda. et-al  Brief “Proposed Ammendment of Article 26 and its implication on land tenure security” states that the minister has come out in no uncertain terms by proposing the new clauses to Article 26, as follows:

 “(3) Where the parties are unable to agree on the fair and adequate compensation payable under clause (2) (b) (i), the Government shall deposit in Court or with any other competent authority, the value of the property as evaluated by the Chief Government Valuer and the Government shall take possession of the property pending determination by the Court or other competent authority of the disputed amount of the compensation.”

“(4) Notwithstanding clause (2)(b)(i), Government shall take possession of the property where the Government has deposited the evaluated compensation amount referred to in clause (3), but the owner of the property shall have a right to claim the disputed compensation amount that may be determined by the Court or other competent authority.”

In effect, if the proposed amendment is passed into law, the government will have powers to legally evict anyone and acquire land before payment of compensation has taken place. 

Doris Atwijukire

Civic Response on Environment and Development.

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