By Joel Ogwang
Owning land does not come cheap; until you own a land title.To secure ownership, most people either buy land from real estate firms or individuals they trust.
The media has been awash with stories of the Government revoking land titles, but do you know the circumstances under which the state may arrive at this decision?
According to the lands, housing and urban development ministry, cancellation of land titles may be due to six reasons;
If the land title was issued in error
If the land title contains a wrong description of the land in question or the boundaries
If the land title contains an entry or endorsement made in error
If a land title contains an illegal or forged endorsement
If a land title was illegally or wrongfully obtained
If a land title is illegally or wrongfully retained.
“No one except the commissioner for Land Registration has the powers to revoke or cancel a land title and issue a fresh one, without referring the matter to court,” says Dennis Obbo, the ministry publicist.
The process leading to cancellation
Before cancellation, the commissioner is required to give notice of not less than 21 days of the intention to cancel or take the appropriate action to any party likely to be affected.
The Commissioner also conducts a hearing and gives all interested parties an opportunity to be heard, in accordance with the rules of natural justice.
Once a decision has been reached, Obbo says, the Commissioner communicates in writing to the parties, giving the reasons for the decision made and calling for the land title for cancellation, correction or delivery to the rightful owner.
“If the person holding the Cancelled land title fails or refuses to produce it to the commissioner within reasonable time, the Registry copy is amended and a Special title is issued to the rightful owner,” he says.
There have been cases of signatures of persons claiming to be Chairpersons of Secretaries of District Land Boards, yet some are expired and others not yet nominated.
As long as these discrepancies are discovered, the titles are recalled. It is, therefore, important that land owners know the leaders on their respective District Land Board (DLB) and whether the Board is operational, expired or non-existent.
Sometime, a fraudster may have access to a duplicate title issued when, the original is still in existence. This may occur with the cooperation of unethical officers in a number of Government offices.
“It is true that some of the staff in the ministry of Lands connive with fraudsters and process fake land titles and this malpractice has been going on for many years,” Migereko was quoted as saying in a local media recently.
Where unscrupulous persons arrange for the issuance of title documents on land that is otherwise not available for sale.
In this category forged title documents may be issued on road reserves, forests, environmentally fragile land, and Government land.
Where unscrupulous persons offer land for purchase on the strength of forged title documents.
Where dishonest persons take advantage of naive purchasers and proceed to offer them land for purchase yet it belongs to Ugandan’s in the diaspora. Here, the sellers masquerade as land agents to con unsuspecting buyers yet, in actual sense, targeted land is not on sale.
Where forgery of transfer documents is used to effect the sale of land by unscrupulous persons.
As well, where sale of land is done during the dry season without informing prospective purchaser that the land offered for sale is in a wetland and swamps.
Some land agents take their clients to plots on higher grounds when in actual sense the land for sale is in a swamp. In this case, the buyer may only discover the fraud after paying when he or she wants to begin development. At this moment, the agent’s phone contact is no longer in use.
To beat frauds in land sales, the land records was set-up as a response to increasing disputes over land, many of them arising from having many people alleging that they owned the genuine title to a given piece of land.
By July 2013, 88 DLBs had been approved whilst Abim, Agago, Amudat, Amuru, Apac, Bukedea, Katakwi, Kotido, Bukwo, Butaleja, Kiruhura, Kayunga, Lira, Buvuma, Ntoroko, Maracha, Mitooma, Napak, Oyam, Pader, Iganga, Sironko, Namutumba and Kalangala DLBs had not yet been approved, according to data from the lands ministry.
Tips to beat the fraudsters
l Visit the land and physically inspected it.
lTalk to all the neighbours in the vicinity of the land in order to confirm that the purported seller is in fact the rightful owner. If there are any disputes, do not buy.
l Meet the actual owner of land and not merely his/her purported agents. Come with him or her or a representative to the Land Registry to verify the land in question.
l Hire a registered Advocate to act on your behalf in the land transaction, as the acquisition of land is a technical legal process.
lConsult a reputable valuer or our Government valuers to establish a fair market value for the parcel of land on offer. Property offered for sale at throw away prices and in a great hurry may not always be genuine.
The buyer should insist on seeing the original land title and should bring it to the Land registry for verification before money changes hands.
“By simply giving the Land Registry your up-to-date contact details, you can help ensure a fraudster doesn’t transfer your property into their name - and make you a victim of property fraud,” says Obbo.
And, when lands minister, Daudi Migereko admitted to the parliamentary budget committee, chaired by Tim Lwanga recently, stating; “You find that one piece of land has five supposedly genuine owners,” many Ugandans were left bewildered.