Government needs to act fast on the rampant encroachment of land
Government entities, school, colleges and universities are losing land to encroachers at unprecedented scales. The issue of land in Uganda has been a contentious one resulting in sometimes violence, murders, and chaos. Communal land being leased to foreign investors and private firms at the expense of the livelihood of thousands of people is not uncommon.
Land grabbing has been for the most part fueled by the eagerness of government to attract and incentivise investors. This has raised a number of issues, and petitions from the local communities. The Public was recently outraged by the government decision to give away 900 acres of land belonging to Namulonge Research Institute to businessman Sudhir Ruparelia. However, the most common vice that goes on seemingly unabated is the encroachment on government land by individuals, communities and private investors.
In the last three years the Auditor General in his reports has expressed worrying concern at the rate at which government land is being lost to encroachers with little or no concern from the respective government entities. The most affected are government schools, ministry of agriculture, universities, the Uganda Police Force and the Defence Forces. The situation got so bad that Parliament instituted a select committee to investigate the cases of public school land being taken by individuals and investors.
So where is the problem?
While government entities have enormous acreage of land, a lot of it is not surveyed, not fenced and lack land titles. This has made it easy target for opportunists and encroachers. For instance, Uganda Police Force has 665 pieces of land in the 106 districts however; most of them do not have titles, while 145 pieces of land had been surveyed pending deed plans, 418 pieces of land were pending survey. The Force occupies only 3 of the 8 acres at Natete Police Station. The irony is that the force has a land protection unit. If they cannot protect their own land, how can we trust them to help protect other peoples land?
The army has equally been severely hit. The 3rd Division Headquarters occupies an area of approximately 600 acres located within Mbale Municipality. It was however noted that land owned by the barracks is not in the inventory of the Ministry’s lands, Moroto Barracks land, Encroachment of 2nd division headquarters’ land in Mbarara has gone to encroachers.
Even the most fortified land-Mbuya Army headquarters was heavily encroached by individuals who built permanent houses. Because little or no action has been taken by government, this has encouraged the vice to grow.
In Makerere University, It was noted that in most cases there was delayed renewal of lease agreements and land encroachment on University land by various individuals claiming ownership of the land. Without evidence of ownership, it was difficult to confirm that the land actually belongs to the University. There is a risk of the University losing the land if not transferred into its name or having the expired leases renewed. The same goes for Makerere University Business School.
While appearing before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), nearly all the entities affected blame limited or no funding for carrying out surveys and acquiring land titles. In all the budgets this remains an unfunded priority. Members of the committee urged all government entities to appeal to ministry of Finance to make funds available for surveying and getting title deeds.
The Uganda Land Commission which is mandated to acquire and manage government land and keep custody of all the documents relating to land lacks a comprehensive inventory of Government land and this has precipitated massive encroachment and/or loss. The management of Uganda Land commission, like the rest of government entities attribute this to insufficient funds.
If government does not prioritise and provide funds to the different entities for the component of land and estates management, it will continue to lose land. Cases like schools losing land, police stations losing land will continue unabated. In cases where land has already been lost, criminal and legal routes have to be taken to recover the same.