The pro­posed land re­forms are un­nec­es­sary

By: Mugoya Musa

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 oth­ersHow­ever, 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.