During the third Annual Conference on Social, Economic and Cultural rights, that took place between 14th and 15th September at Makerere University, the country’s Premier university, Human Rights experts called for a referendum on proposed land reforms by Government. They included Medd Kaggwa, the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, Dr. Rose Nakayi, Makerere University law don and Peter Magela, a Human Rights advocate.
The conference was held under the theme; Business and Human Rights in Uganda: Accountability V. Social Responsibility for corporate abuses. The call for a referendum was coined during a break up parallel discussion; Compulsory Acquisition for Investment or Land Grabbing? Land Acquisition for Economic Development in Uganda.
The discussion on land acquisition in this year’s conference was informed by the Government’s plans to amend Article 26 of the constitution to insert in a new paragraph. The principle of this new paragraph is that when the land owner (s) rejects the value offered by the Government chief valuer for his/her land. Government deposits the amount of money determined by the Valuer to the Court and its acknowledgement of the deposit is deemed prior compensation.
And after the compensation has been deposited to court, government proceeds with its projects on the land pending disposing of the case on the contested value offered by government to the land owner. And in case court rules in favour of the land owner, government is obliged to pay as determined by court. This is according to Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Minister Betty Amongi
This proposal was mooted during a retreat for Government ministers, permanent secretaries and executive directors of various government statutory bodies as well as members of the Central Executive Committee of the ruling party in Kyankwanzi. This also is where the newly sworn in Head of State coined again another slogan for this term Kisanja Hakuna Muchezo literally meaning a term of no games. He also committed himself to deliver Uganda to middle income class by 2020- giving Ugandans another hope again.
This hasn’t been the first-time president Museveni making declarations to transform Uganda’s economy. I won’t be wrong to allege that term after term he has been leading Ugandans by hope through slogans from Etandikwa, Bona Bagagawale among others. However, this is not the centre of my discussion today and let us get back to the proposed land reforms.
Government hopes that once its proposed land reforms are adopted, they will fasten acquisition of land for development projects as opposed to the current situation which has bogged the implementation of government programs like roads constructions.
While appearing before, the Parliament Committee on Commissions Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises to respond to accountability queries raised by the Auditor General. Allen Kagina, Executive Director of the Uganda National Road Authority informed the committee of the tedious process of land acquisition which has delayed implementation of their projects some of which are externally financed by borrowed funds.
Although government maybe proposing these reforms in good spirits and despite the fact that both local and international legal standards recognize, the right to property as not absolute. The proposed new reforms contradict domestic human rights standards as well international to which Uganda is a state party.
This will consequently constitute gross violations of a range human rights. For example, human rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of the person, security of the home, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment most especially for the poor and vulnerable by the state despite being the principal duty bearer in regard to the promotion and protection of the citizens’ rights.
When it comes to honouring rulings and directives in regard to compensations, Government of Uganda has been less compliant. For instance, the Auditor General’s report for the year 2015, indicates an outstanding amount in Court awards, compensations and other liabilities at UGX 479.3bn by 30th June 2015.
The report further observed that these liabilities have been accumulating over the last four financial years. For example, court compensations and awards alone grew from UGX 54bn in 2012 to UGX 253bn in 2015. These outstanding liabilities include compensations for torture victims, project affected persons by roads, electricity projects. This shows that some people have died waiting to receive their compensations from government as directed by Courts.
Since 2012, government has been allocating only UGX 4.35bn for compensations, going by the current figure of outstanding liabilities against the budget allocation. It will take government 110 years to clear the outstanding liabilities but if we are to factor in the interests accruing on these liabilities more time will be needed. And once the proposed land reforms are adopted, there is no doubt that rate of increase in court cases and awards regarding land will go up.
Also by adopting this proposal, government will have to first assure the citizenry of free legal representation especially we the poor and the vulnerable and the efficiency and effectiveness of its courts in disposing of cases. More than once, Commissioner General of Prison Services, Dr. Johnson Byabashaijja has informed parliament committee on defence and internal affairs that about 55% of the prisoners are on remand.
While the National Court Case Census report released by the Judiciary on October 25, 2016 indicates that 254 cases have taken 10 years in the High Court registry unresolved. The Magistrate’s Courts have 217 cases for the same period. The report highlights a total of 114,809 pending cases in the courts, out of which 28,864 cases are backlog accounting for 25.14% of case backlog. Currently for land cases, which is the gist of the article, the Land Division for High Court in Kampala alone has the highest backlog at 3,846 cases.
The above highlighted inefficiency among courts and the government’s untimely compensation of court awardees is evidence enough for Parliament not to even listen to these reforms. Their adoption will be a recipe of disaster to the country.