Fraudsters target land titles owned by widows and orphans
Is the land title you are holding safe? This question may sound irrelevant to you until you become a victim. The family of the late Jimmy Kaddu in Najjembe, Mukono district, is currently in court, battling with a former family friend, Charles Batte, over a one-acre piece of land.
The family says after Kaddu’s death, Batte, who was his close friend, connived with some district lands officials to transfer the land title of that plot into his name.
“I remember it was a Sunday morning in May last year, when I saw three people surveying our land. When I tried to inquire why they were inspecting our land, they told me they had bought it,” Rose Nakaddu, Kaddu’s eldest daughter, said.
She said they presented photocopies of the land title in the name of Henry Batte and other transactions in different names.
“I thought it was a joke, but when we talked at length, they proved they had bought the land. I almost collapsed,” Nakaddu said.
She could not believe that her father’s best friend had betrayed them. “I informed my siblings and we put up a spirited fight, until we blocked construction on our land,” she added.
The row prompted other residents and the area chairperson to intervene. The chairperson advised them to hire a surveyor to conduct a search on the status of the land title.
Robert Kanyike, a surveyor, was hired to do the job and he discovered that the land title had been transferred into Batte’s name.
“I advised them to go to court, which they did. And now they are waiting for a ruling,” Kanyike says. Many Ugandans are struggling with land title problems. Some innocently own properties with similar land titles.
And the courts are bogged down with land cases. The family of the late Tony Lutwama in Rubaga division, recently sued the Attorney General, two businessmen and the lands ministry for allegedly fraudulently transferring their land.
The family accuses their uncle, Henry Sebuguluse, of using forged documents to fraudulently transfer their land measuring 0.44 acres into other people’s names.
The children secured a court order, but say the lands ministry ignored the order. Now they want court to declare the land transfer illegal and cancel it.
How fraud is carried out
Kanyike said many people lose houses and other properties because they are not vigilant. “Some relatives of deceased persons connive with land registrars to transfer titles into other names, immediately after the death has occurred. In some cases, they are the custodians of the land titles,” Kanyike explained.
He noted that these days, many people own houses whose land titles are in other people’s names.
“It is advisable that you go to the district land board to check the status of your land title every two months. Because of advanced technology, it will take you a few minutes to find out the status of your title. This is the only option for fighting fraud. Nobody will tamper with it because they will know that you have much interest. Kanyike said land fraudsters tend to target mainly land titles owned by widows and orphans.
“They do not immediately verify the deceased’s property, giving fraudsters time to transfer the land titles. And it is worse, especially if the family members do not see eye-toeye,” he said.
In Kampala, the Auditor General’s report pinned the Kampala district land board for allocating land to more than one individual, for a plot on Luthuli Drive in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb.
The report also pinned them for creating plots of land in existing roads and carriage ways. George Musisi, a legal officer with the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, said illegal transfer of land titles is fuelled by fraud in the land transactions, enhanced by weak enforcement of laws and ignorance by the poor, regarding legal knowledge.
He said currently, they are helping many families to reclaim their land. “Eighty-nine out of the 639 cases we are handling are in court at different stages. Last year, 12 cases were decided in favour of our clients,” he revealed.
Land officials respond
Yusuf Nsibambi from the Kampala district land board, said the allocation of land to more than one individual was done by their predecessors. Baguma Isoke, the chairperson of the Uganda Lands Commission, also denied involvement in allocating land to more than one individual.
Where to keep it
George Musisi, a legal officer with the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, said one can decide to keep the land title with the financial institutions such as banks, with a lawyer or in the house. “
For banks and lawyers, an acknowledgement deed is made as a sign that they have received the land title. You also have to pay an annual fee, which varies, depending on the bank or the lawyer,” he explained.
Recovering stolen land title The first step one must take is to report to the Police. After that, the title holder should write to the registrar of titles in Kampala, Wakiso or Masaka because not every district has a registrar of titles. The registrar then gazettes the information within 30 days, to issue a special certificate.