and Mary Karugaba
PARLIAMENT yesterday embarked on the long-awaited debate of the Land Amendment Bill with the House divided along party lines.
While the ruling NRM MPs supported the Bill, the opposition vehemently opposed it, saying it was a recipe for bloodshed in the country. They argued that the existing laws regarding land were sufficient and the only problem was implementation.
The Bill seeks to protect the rights of sitting tenants. Under the new law, a registered occupant can only be evicted for failure to pay annual nominal ground rent and eviction orders should be issued by court.
It also provides that the land owner shall not sell land on which there are tenants without giving them the first option of buying it. Illegal evictions will attract sentences of up to seven years.
The House, chaired by Speaker Edward Ssekandi, witnessed charged MPs trying to out-maneuver each other by appealing to ethnic sentiments.
Rukia Nakadama (NRM) at one point called for a point of order, demanding to know whether intimidation and blackmail were in order in the House.
This prompted the Speaker to warn the members. â€œThis is a very sensitive matter, people are using all strategies to block others from speaking. Let us allow people to speak candidly.â€
Opposition Chief Whip Kassiano Wadri (FDC) opposed the Bill, saying the objective was questionable. â€œWhere I come from (West Nile), you can be pecuniary poor but when you have land you are rich.â€
He called the Bill sectarian, giving protection to the tenants against the registered land owners. The Government should identify the cause of the evictions and use the existing laws to deal with them, he said, warning that if the law was passed, land would lose its value.
But Ashraf Olega (NRM) said the people in West Nile supported the Bill.
Erias Lukwago (DP) equally opposed the Bill, saying he had instructions from his clan leaders in Buganda that it should not pass. â€œThis Bill has eyes and it is looking at Buganda specifically,â€ he said.
But Ruth Nankabirwa (NRM) said consultations had been held widely especially in Buganda and it was found that the Bill was long overdue.
â€œMy people are complaining that we are delaying when they are being harassed by landlords.â€ Buganda Parliamentary Caucus chairperson Rose Namayanja threw her weight behind the Bill, saying it would address the rampant evictions. But she called for minor amendments on the powers of the minister to determine ground rent.
Florence Sekabira (NRM) said there was need to regulate land issues. â€œPeople are not secure as far as land is concerned. The landlords canâ€™t survey their land because they will be murdered, while some people have been displaced unlawfully and now live on lake shores and in forest reserves.â€
Okello Okello (UPC) said the Acholi Parliamentary Group rejects the amendment in its totality. â€œWe have been living for centuries without these laws and we donâ€™t need them.â€
Latif Ssebagala (DP) said debating the Land Bill was like debating the Kabaka of Buganda. â€œThe Sabataka has said no to this Bill. Which true Muganda should stand here to support this Bill?â€ he asked to protest from the NRM MPs.
Guma Gumisiriza (NRM) called for calm and sobriety in debating the amendment.
â€œWhat is characteristic in this Bill is protecting the people we represent here. All the law is saying is that all people, including the Generals and the Executive, should be guided by the law,â€ he said.
Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi assured the MPs that the controversial clause 32B would be deleted. The clause states that anybody claiming interest in land under customary tenure cannot be evicted except through a court eviction order.
The debate continues today.
NRM, opposition clash over land Bill