Museveni gets his way on Land Amendments, but...
Many MPs have previously said they will not support the Land Amendments if the concerns raised by several sections of the public are not addressed.
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First published: November 21, 2008
After saving two of his senior ministers from an imminent censure by Parliament, President Yoweri Museveni is expected this month to register another victory over his opponents by getting the controversial Land Amendment Bill 2007 passed into law.
Finance Minister, Dr. Ezra Suruma and Security Minister Amama Mbabazi seemed to be headed for the political graveyard over their role in the NSSF-Temangalo land saga with public opinion and most MPs baying for the ministers' censure. But President Museveni pulled out some of his political master cards to rally and silence the critical MPs who ended up voting that the two ministers had no case to answer.
Like the NSSF- Temangalo land saga, the controversial Land Amendment bill has been criticized by most sections of the public across the country. Many MPs have also previously said they will not support the Land Amendments if the concerns raised by several sections of the public are not addressed.
It emerged on Tuesday November 18th that the Land Amendment bill will be passed into law sooner than later, following the recommendation by the two parliamentary Committees handling the bill.
The Parliamentary committee on Physical Infrastructure and that of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, which have been scrutinizing the Bill since February 2008 presented their report to parliament recommending that the bill be passed into law.
The plenary sitting on Tuesday November 18th debated the committee recommendations on the Land Amendment Bill on its second reading in the August House.
It was clear that the Museveni who has been the chief campaigner for the land amendments had done his homework well, as the parliamentary debates were almost exclusively those supporting the proposed land amendments.
The joint committee like the President argued, concluded that the Land Amendments are necessary to stop the rampant evictions and to handle the legal gaps in the land law, especially the duality of ownership on mailo land. This is despite widespread concerns that more consultations needed to be made before the bill is considered by Parliament.
There are reports that most MPs on the two committees have been acting under pressure and persuasion from the President and State House officials to ensure the land amendment bill is passed as the government wants it.
The MPs on the two committees recommended that as a matter of urgency, the Bill should be passed and consultations, if necessary, could be done later.
The MPs report supported the Cabinet proposal that a tenant can only be evicted from land registered land (mailo, freehold or lease title) for non-payment of the annual nominal ground rent commonly referred to as Busuulu. Many landlords led by Buganda kingdom (the largest Mailo land holder in Uganda) and the Catholic Church (the second leading mailo land owner) have been incensed by this provision arguing that there are other reasons for which a landlord can evict a tenant.
The Archbishop of Kampala Archdiocese, Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga argues that it would be wrong to say that a landlord should not evict a tenant who is undertaking activities that are unacceptable to the landlord. For example, Archbishop Lwanga says the church should be able to evict people who sell alcohol or undertake immoral activities like prostitution, witchcraft etc on the Church's land.
The Kingdom of Buganda has insisted that the requirement that a tenant be evicted only for failure to pay ground rent automatically takes away the landlord's rights of ownership since he landlord can not decide to undertake any economic activities on the land which has tenant, sell or lease such land.
Buganda's Spokesperson, Peter Mayiga says this amendment is against the constitutional guarantees of the right to own private property. This is the same view presented by the Uganda Law Society and the Uganda Human Rights Commission.
Mayiga says Buganda Kingdom is ready to go to Courts of law to challenge the amendments if they are adopted by Parliament. He says the current land law is adequate to stop the rampant land evictions, adding that the new amendments will only polarize the tenants and landlords further.
The Uganda Bankers Association had disagreed with the bill's provision on eviction of tenants saying it made it difficult for Land Title's to stand as security for bank loans and mortgages. Banks complained that the amendments would complicate matters for financial institutions on what they should do to clients who gave land titles of land with tenants, and whether banks should require borrowers with land titles to seek permission from tenants before borrowing money using the land title in question.
It is this situation that the landlords view as taking away what used to be their absolute powers in land since they are the title holders (owners). But the government says many of the so called tenants were the original land owners, deprived of ownership by the 1900 Buganda agreement which gave mailo land titles of land occupied by many people to a few Buganda royals and colonial servants.
Although the government insists the Bill will help to better protect such bona fide occupants and lawful tenants from illegal evictions, critics led by Buganda Kingdom, have accused the government of trying to use the proposed legislation to allow illegal occupants and land grabbers to legalize their occupation on Buganda's so-called 9,000 square miles (former crown land).
This is the "refuse land" that was not distributed as titled land to any body. It was retained by the British Crown, which reverted it to the Buganda kingdom in 1960 when the colonial government was preparing to hand over. While the government argues that there were people on most of this land who now own the land under customary tenure, Buganda kingdom insists this land has been grabbed by newcomers who have taken advantage of the fact that the government refused to give the 9,000 sq miles back to Buganda. The Minister for Lands, Kasirvu Atwooki says part of this land that is not occupied by local people under customary tenure is in the hands of district land boards in the respective areas, who have the right and duty to administer its utilization.
Apart from provision on landlord –tenant relationships, the Committee retained other controversial government amendments like Section 32(b) presented by the Minister of Land, Housing and Urban Development, Daniel Omara Atubo which proposes to empower courts to arbitrate over matters of customary land. MPs especially from northern and eastern Uganda had said that courts should have no powers over customary land since such land is held according to cultural norms and beliefs of a particular area.
But Atubo says the provision in this amendment applies only when the customary avenue has been exhausted and the parties are not satisfied. He says all cultures and traditional practices must finally be subjected to the Courts of Uganda to ensure they are fair and do not abuse constitutional rights and freedoms of some Ugandans.
Some experts like the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative Executive Director Livingstone Ssewanyana had argued that the law amendments will have little if any effect on correcting the ills in the land law if the country does not have a National Land Policy. But the MPs on the two Committees seem to think otherwise.
"The Land (Amendments) Bill, 2007 comes in as a stop gap measure due to public outcry on land grabbing, forceful evictions and grave associated crimes as we wait for the national land policy which the Ministry (of Land) has started on," the MPs report says.
Only three MPs led by Makindye East MP Michael Mabikke are reported to have disagreed with the majority and are preparing a minority report against the passing of the Land Amendment Bill. Others are Patrick Oboi (FDC, Kumi) and Peter Omolo (FDC, Soroti Municipality).
But this is a little number compared to the number of MPs who were threatening to censure the two ministers, just weeks ago over the NSSF-Temangalo Land saga. President Museveni is once again expected to be the victor when Parliament passed this Land Amendment bill as it is expected, given that the NRM has more than two thirds majority in Parliament. Museveni will surely have won something for the tenants (who greatly outnumber landlords) as their enhanced protection on land is expected to result in more votes for Museveni and the NRM. But whether the win in passing the bill will last up to the implementation stage is one issue that we shall keep our eyes open to witness.
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First published: November 21, 2008