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Govt dragged to court over Bugolobi land giveaway

By Michael Odeng

Added 19th June 2019 04:07 AM

The company has asked the court to stop the surveyors from carrying out the verification exercise

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NFA executive director Tom Okello Obong. Phto by Ronnie Kijjambu

The company has asked the court to stop the surveyors from carrying out the verification exercise

A company has dragged the government to court over the proposed giveaway of the land belonging to the National Forestry Authority (NFA) in Bugolobi

In March this year, the president reportedly directed the Minister of Water and Environment, Sam Cheptoris, to issue a letter of ‘no objection’ to Uganda Land Commission (ULC) to allocate and lease half of the NFA land to a Swiss company, SICPA SA, to develop a digital stamp centre.

A letter of ‘no objection' is a document used to verify the existing legal use of a property that does not have a certificate of occupancy defining its use.

In a letter, Museveni says the rationale for leasing NFA land to SICPA SA is the need for the Swiss company to be near the Uganda Revenue Authority headquarters (URA).

The four-acre piece of land forms part of Nakawa Forestry Research, part of which is occupied by NFA headquarters.

Affod Afrika Limited has sued the Attorney General, NFA and ULC in the Land Division of the High Court in Kampala, saying the act is unlawful because it was done without following the law.

“The acts and omissions of ULC to alienate the land without following the proper process of the law is unlawful,” the company contends.

The company argues that only Parliament can degazette land before it is given away to any private investor. The company filed the suit on Friday through Sanywa, Wabwire and Company Advocates.

“Nakawa Forestry Research has not been degazetted by Parliament to make it available for allocation or alienation,” reads part of the court documents.

The company contends that NFA does not own the land and can only exercise a statutory mandate of managing the central forest reserve as a trustee for Ugandan citizens for the present and future generation.

Court documents indicate that following the president’s directive, Minister Cheptoris on May 7, 2019, issued a letter to Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Betty Amongi Ongom, requesting a survey team to establish the availability of the land.

On May 8, ministry of lands permanent secretary, Dorcas Okalany sent an internal memorandum to the Acting Commissioner Surveys and Mapping, instructing for the expeditious constitution of a team of government surveyors.

In the same date, Okalany wrote a letter to the ministry of water permanent secretary, Alfred Okot Okidi, requesting for the facilitation of the survey team.

On May 23, Okalany wrote a letter to Okidi introducing Arthur Akanga from the department of surveys and mapping as the team leader.

On May 27, Okidi wrote a letter to NFA executive director, informing him of the president’s directive and introducing Akanga as the team leader for surveyors.

Declarations

The company seeks a declaration that the government’s directive based on the decision of cabinet meeting dated January 28, 2019, in Entebbe to allocate the land to SCIPA SA is unlawful.

Museveni revealed that on the same date, Cabinet was briefed about the implantation of the digital tax stamp program. The discussions were held with the chairman and chief executive officer of SICPA, and: “it was agreed that SICPA would invest in a state of the art operation and processing centre, from which they will prepare and code all stamps to be used by URA.

The company also seeks a declaration that the acts of ULC to alienate the land is ultravires.

The company also wants the court to issue an injunction against AG, NFA and ULC from alienating the land without following the proper process of the law.

The company has asked the court to stop the surveyors from carrying out the verification exercise, for purposes of leasing out the land to the investor.

Remedy 

The company also wants the court to compel the government to pay them the cost of the suit, incurred for pursuing the matter and any other relief court may deem fit.

The court is yet to summon AG, NFA and ULC to file a defence is respect to the allegations.

Facts on NFA, SICPA

Sources within NFA told New Vision that the total acreage of the NFA land is about eight acres, which means, almost half of the authority land that houses part of their headquarters and major staff head offices on Plot 10/20 Spring Road, will be given to the Swiss company.

The Act and the Forestry Policy 2001, mandates NFA to; “Manage Central Forest Reserves on a sustainable basis and to supply high-quality forestry-related products and services to government, local communities and the private sector.”

There are about 506 central forest reserves in Uganda, representing 1265471 hectares of the total forest cover in the country.

NFA was established under section 52 of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act and was launched on April 26, 2004.

According to information on its official website, SICPA describes itself as a worldwide leader of security inks for currencies and sensitive documents, including identity documents, passports, transport and lottery tickets.

“We innovate continually to enable trust by developing reliable, secure and technologically advanced solutions and services for identification, traceability and authentication. Making the world more secure for its citizens is our business purpose and what motivates our people,” the company website states.

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