Gov­ern­ment needs to act fast on the ram­pant en­croach­ment of land

By: REA­GAN WA­MA­JJI

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.