By Vision Reporters
The Land Amendment Bill was finally passed yesterday after an acrimonious five-day debate that divided the House along party lines. The President still has to approve the Bill before it becomes law.
The Bill aims at punishing those who take part in illegal evictions of lawful tenants. It also gives the tenants the first option of buying in case the landlord wants to sell his land.
Similarly, tenants must give the landlord the first option of buying back the kibanja in case they want to sell.
â€œI am relieved that it is out of the way,â€ said lands minister Omara Atubo after Parliament passed the Bill on yesterday afternoon.
Buganda opposition MPs, led by Hussein Kyanjo, walked out after the Speaker, Edward Ssekandi, refused to grant his request that the debate be deferred to next week to allow Muslim MPs time to organise for the Idd celebrations today.
The MPs who walked out were Susan Nampija (CP), Erias Lukwago (DP), Michael Mabike (Independent), Dr. Lulume Bayiga (DP), Kyanjo (JEEMA), Latiff Sebagala (DP) and John Kawanga.
Although the Bill faced stiff resistance from opposition and Buganda MPs, it sailed through with minor amendments.
The debate was characterized by heated exchanges with Speaker Edward Ssekandi several times warning the legislators against the use of blackmail.
One of the most controversial sections, which stated that somebody claiming interest in land under customary tenure shall not be evicted except upon a court order, was deleted after strong opposition from MPs from northern and eastern Uganda.
The House also approved the amendment saying that the annual nominal ground rent will be determined by the minister, in case the district land board fails to do so, within six months after the commencement of the Land Amendment Act. The period was previously only 30 days.
MPs agreed that lawful tenants can only be evicted for non-payment of ground rent, and that a registered tenant can only be evicted upon a court order.
Eviction without a court order will under the new Bill be a criminal offence and attract a prison sentence of up to seven years.
The law does not allow the tenant selling the land without the knowledge of the registered owner. If he does so, he risks a fine of up to sh1.9m and four years in jail, while the transaction will be declared invalid.
Equally a transaction for the sale of the land by the owner without giving the first option to the tenant is invalid.
Ssekandi commended the MPs for their contributions and urged them to go and sensitise their constituents.
When the matter was put to vote, 112 MPs, all from the ruling NRM party, voted in favour of the Bill. The 52 opposition MPs who opposed the Bill were joined by three from the Government side.
The three were Kaddunabbi Lubega, Peter Mutuluza and Rebecca Lukwago, all from Buganda.
Buganda caucus chairperson, Rose Nsereko (NRM) voted for the Bill. Voting was conducted by show of hands with the clerks tallying. After the dramatic exercise, the Speaker declared the voting had been transparent.
Ssekandi disregarded pleas by opposition MPs that voting should be repeated by use of roll-call method.
â€œWe should develop a culture of accepting defeat. Those against the Bill have been defeated,â€ the Speaker said.
Mabikke (Independent) stirred up the House when he said that the Speakerâ€™s plea was not in the spirit of how the NRM reacted to the 1980 election defeat, when it opted to wage a guerilla war.
Earlier, Atubo described the debate on the Bill as extra-ordinary. He acknowledged that the Bill does not address the cause of evictions.
â€œAs Government, we are trying to cure evictions. The first dose of treatment is to maintain the status quo,â€ he noted.
Responding to arguments that the current law is enough to stop evictions, Atubo said the Bill has radical provisions which criminalise evictions. â€œIt allows for the court to award compensation and retribution. If you evict, the court will assess the damage caused and award damages and you will go back to your land.â€
He clarified that the Bill does not protect tress-passers and squatters, saying that those illegally entering land are liable to four years of imprisonment or fine of sh1.9m.
Atubo said the debate had at times been intimidating and insulting. â€œI compare those remarks to a rotten egg thrown at a politician. You get your handkerchief and clean yourself.â€
At the end of the debate, local government minister Adolf Mwesige announced that the Government would table the Regional Tier Bill in Parliament next week.
Reporting by Milton Olupot, Joyce Namutebi, Henry Mukasa and Mary Karugaba
- A landlord can only evict a tenant after a court order and only on the ground that the occupant has not paid ground rent.
- A landlord who has occupants on his land cannot start selling it off without notification of the occupants.
- A tenant may handle a certificate of occupation, issued by the landlord, but cannot assign or pass it over to somebody else without first notifying the owner and giving him first priority to buy the land.
- Somebody who attempts to evict, evicts or participates in the eviction of a lawful tenant risks up to seven years in jail.