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Fraud rocks Kampala Mailo land registry

By Vision Reporter

Added 12th January 2005 03:00 AM

Ugandans are paying heavily to obtain or access land titles from the Kampala Mailo Registry office.

Ugandans are paying heavily to obtain or access land titles from the Kampala Mailo Registry office.

By Felix Osike and Jude Etyang

Ugandans are paying heavily to obtain or access land titles from the Kampala Mailo Registry office.

Not only are they spending too much time searching for titles, they also have to pay some money to ‘facilitate’ the process. This has continued for a long time and the level of corruption is alarming.

Investigations by the New Vision have revealed that there are many forged certificates issued around 2000-2005 relating to land in Kampala, Mpigi and Wakiso districts.

There are also torn titles with no plot numbers and others missing completely. It is a nightmare to find a title at the lands registry because of discrepancies and corruption.

Multiple titles are issued over the same pieces of land. Some titles share same numbers but have different plot locations.

An example was the fraudulent sub-division of land belonging to Henry Ezekiel Konde, the owner of plot 161, Kirinya.

Konde claims he never issued any authority to sub-divide his plot. But he later discovered that the plot had illegally been subdivided into nine plots to which certificates were fraudulently issued to other persons.

No reference was made to the relevant instrument number against the said sub-divisions thus concealing the true nature of the instrument.

Another attempt was made to mislead other unknowing staff members about the existence of the illegal certificates by issuing of another certificate purporting to comprise other plots.

In cases where fraud has been discovered, the suspects have escaped prosecution by surrendering their certificates for cancellation while admitting that the certificates were issued in error.
Bonafide purchasers of land in the three districts have sometimes been caught in the fraud web leading to loss of millions of shillings.

Getting a title may take one a year or two after paying a lot of money for the transaction including a search, which would ordinarily take a few minutes.

Sometimes the officials in the land office pluck the duplicate titles popularly known as the, “white pages”, to extort money from the clients.

Signing the file can take up to six months for even a small plot. There are also misfiled and misplaced titles, which sometimes take over two months to trace. But for big land dealers it only takes a short time to process their titles.

Now two senior lands ministry officials are locked up in a power wrangle over control of the Kampala Mailo Office (KMO), the biggest and most active registry in Uganda.

The commissioner for land registration, Jonathan Tibisaasa and the registrar of KMO, Robert Opio, have for close to a year been clashing on how the registry should be managed.
Tibisaasa declined to comment when contacted.

“I would not like to conduct government business through the press,” he said.

KMO, which was a branch office of the department of land registration was decentralised in 1996, and staff transferred to Wakiso, Kampala and Mpigi district.
However, they have continued to operate in the same premises.

The department deals with transfers, mortgages and caveats. But there is a backlog of cases because of corruption and inefficiency.

Sources said the wrangle is over the transfer of the Mailo land office to KCC, which has been resisted by lands ministry officials.

The two officials have bitterly accused each other of abetting corruption at KMO in separate letters addressed to the lands ministry permanent secretary, B.K. Kabanda.

The wrangle took a strange twist on December 30, when the lands state minister, Baguma Isoke, transferred Opio to Kampala City Council land office.

The junior officers who took over cannot cope with the work and as a result the Mailo office was locked from November last year to last week when registrars from the districts were called in to help.

Opio, in an October 27, 2004 letter, said the commissioner had made his work difficult by dealing with his subordinates.

“I am completely frustrated and I am working under very difficult and harsh conditions. The commissioner has managed to disorganise and politicise the management of KMO through intrigue,” Opio said.

He added that since September 1, 2003 when all experienced clerical staff were transferred, very many records could no longer be accessible and were feared lost.

Due to the inexperience of the new staff and enormous pressure from the public, many records have been mishandled, disintegrated, misplaced or lost.

In an October 27, 2004 letter, Opio said Tibisaasa was manipulating the situation to create a wrong impression that KMO could only be managed under his control.

He added that Tibisaasa was also seeking to take over the registry from him and to frustrate the transfer of records to the districts.

“The commissioner fears that with the transfer of records to Kampala district, he will have no job to do. In furtherance of his schemes, Tibisaasa has wrestled all the powers of this office from me, has created a mini-Mailo registry in his office, acts as if he is a mere registrar and now treats this registry as part and parcel of his office,” Opio further complained.
He had previously written several letters to Kabanda, citing various cases of fraudulent dealings.

In one of the letters, Opio said there was an increase in complaints about duplicate certificates over same pieces of land held by different parties. He recommended that all duplicate certificates out of fraudulent sub-divisions should be cancelled.

However, Tibisaasa, in a November 1, 2004 letter to Kabanda, said Opio lacked transparency in his work. He recommended that Opio and a clerical officer in-charge of the registry strong room, Patrick Kisoke, be transferred from the registry.

“The writing is on the wall that their continued stay in the registry not only makes it difficult to properly manage the land titles records now and in the future but also compromises and undermines the security and safety of the records,” wrote Tibisaasa.

In a meeting on October 26, 2004, the chief security officer alleged that Opio had been identified as a weak link in security because he was friendly to land brokers.

It was also claimed that the land brokers were planning to burn the Mailo registry in order to destroy evidence of forged land titles.

Tibisaasa said security personnel were deployed at the land registry office after experts advised about a possibility of burning it following an upsurge of fraudulent land transactions.

Opio said he heard of the rumours of an attempt to burn down the records in May 2004. He said it was reported that there was fear that if the records were transferred to KCC, saboteurs could burn them.

“The conduct and malicious falsehoods being orchestrated by Tibisaasa are very serious in nature, has undermined the performance of the registry and are a threat to my personal security and safety,” said Opio.

An attempt is being made to correct the anomalies.

The Land Records rehabilitation project funded by the World Bank has started with indexing of records into a computer database.
Missing or dilapidated records are being identified for reconstruction.
Hopefully once the records are computerised, forgeries will be reduced.

Fraud rocks Kampala Mailo land registry

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