Former FDC presidential candidate Kizza Besigye last week launched a scathing attack on recently-announced government plans for compulsory land acquisitions, telling journalists this was a ploy to steal people`s land. But as Jonathan Kamoga reports, the responsible government minister says Besigye got it all wrong.
Lands, Housing and Urban Development Minister Betty Amongi has denied reports that the proposed land law reforms are aimed at grabbing private property. Amongi told The Observer by telephone that the reforms were only meant to fast-track construction of infrastructure and increase investments.
One of the reforms in question is the recent cabinet resolution at the National Leadership Institute, Kyankwanzi, to amend the Land Act and provide government with unfettered access to private land that may fall in areas strategically important for public works.
The other is a $55 million World Bank project for accelerating land registration and titling countrywide. Last Tuesday, opposition strongman Kizza Besigye, while addressing journalists at his Kasangati home, warned that the so-called reforms would escalate land grabbing.
These two are threats that if we are not careful, can lead to a very serious breakdown of law and order in this country. Indeed, they are issues that can lead to war and our country should not take them lightly, Besigye said.
Besigye referred to the making of the Constitution between 1993 and 1995, saying that although the land matter was heavily discussed, it was no resolved.
It is a problem over which increasingly there is a lot of suffering faced by our people who are displaced from their land. A lot of brutality has been faced by people being evicted and, indeed, many people have died, Besigye said.
He acknowledged the advantages of getting land registered: This is necessary because land is a tradable commodity, part of our assets that should be on the market. So, commercialization of land is beneficial for the country; it will lead to increased investment and productivity without doubt.
Besigye, however, lamented that the circumstances in which the intended acceleration of land registration is going to take place left people vulnerable. Expressing worry that landowners may not be compensated, he argued that these reforms would be a disaster since the country`s current land management system is fraught with corruption and the people lack critical information on the issue.
I would like to refer you to a statement that again was not given much attention, made by minister Aidah Nantaba as she handed over office, Besigye told journalists. She said that there is a powerful mafia in government that is grabbing land. This was a statement by a government minister; it`s not idle, there is a real mafia grabbing land.
However Minister Amongi called upon Ugandans to remain calm and support the government proposals.
The proposal at Kyankwanzi is to amend the land acquisition act and it doesn`t state anywhere that government will not compensate landowners. Government will acquire land and compensate it, Amongi said.
She added that since the current act requires prior compensation for land before any development is done on it, it has delayed different government projects especially road construction.
We simply want the act to change and state that government shall provide fair and adequate compensation to landowners without the word prior in it. This means that developments can go on as negotiations for compensation are also ongoing, Amongi said.
On the land titling project, Amongi asserted that it was not right for anyone to tell people not to acquire titles for their land because it is becoming a necessity.
This project is based on consensus by the communities especially on customary land. It is a demand-driven project and people, for example in Kasese, have embraced it and they are enjoying it, she said.
The minister disclosed that apart from Kasese, seven other districts have written to her office expressing interest in this project. She added that her ministry would first carry out consultations from all stakeholders and parliament before making any decisions.
Property owners intending to title their lands are taken through sensitization, a process that has just concluded in Karamoja. The project aims at issuing one million land titles countrywide and Ugandans will have a chance to register their land for free.