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The Land Bill will protect the rights of the minority

By Vision Reporter

Added 25th November 2009 03:00 AM

ON Tuesday, the Prime Minister vehemently defended the proposed Land Bill, saying it was necessary given the rampant evictions. Below is his speech in full

ON Tuesday, the Prime Minister vehemently defended the proposed Land Bill, saying it was necessary given the rampant evictions. Below is his speech in full

By Prof Apolo Nsibambi

ON Tuesday, the Prime Minister vehemently defended the proposed Land Bill, saying it was necessary given the rampant evictions. Below is his speech in full

Illegal evictions of lawful and bona fide occupants of land commonly known as tenants or bibanja holders has denied them land, shelter and food. These are basic requirements for the survival of human beings.

Some bibanja holders had their ancestral burial grounds destroyed, a brutal measure which traumatised them. Prof. Samwiri Lwanga-Lunyigo has rightly observed that the illegally evicted bibanja holders soon come to town and swell the army of the unemployed waiting for anyone to command them in any venture, good or evil. These observations appear in his book, The Struggle for Land in Buganda, 1888-2005 (Wavah Books, 2007) P.129.

We must remember that while land is finite, the population is increasing and the level of industralisation is still very low and does not provide enough jobs for Ugandans. The Government has taken urgent measures to avoid a major war between landlords and landless peasants.

Ultimately, this problem will be solved through a Land Fund which should enable bibanja holders to acquire certificates of title. According to a study commissioned by the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, the Government will require sh1.767 trillion for land compensations to be able to sort out the entire problem on all tenanted land in Uganda which comprises: 6,638 sq. miles of Buganda; 163 sq. miles in Tooro; 228 sq. miles in Ankole; 80 sq. miles in Bugisu; and 697 sq miles in Kibale. Meanwhile, the Government must deal urgently with the rampant illegal evictions of bibanja holders by enacting the Land Amendment Bill.

I now wish to make responses to some issues raised by Members on the debate on the proposed Land Amendment Bill:

On why the National Land Policy is not yet ready. This document is in advanced stages. The Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development has carried out nationwide consultations. Ten regional consultative workshops have been held since 2007. Twenty three special interest groups have also given their views.

Memoranda are still being collected from stakeholders interested in contributing to this noble process. Parliament and Cabinet are scheduled to be consulted before the end of December 2009.

Dates will be communicated to you after the Minister of Lands liaises with the Office of the Speaker. The minister responsible for lands will also make a statement to Parliament and provide copies of the current draft 4 of the National Land Policy for your input.

After consultations with Cabinet and Parliament, a National Land Conference is scheduled to take place in February 2010 where stakeholders will be called to discuss the Land Policy. The policy will then be submitted to Cabinet for consideration and approval.

On why District Land Tribunals are not operational, it was largely because of inadequate funding, a problem which Government will endeavour to address. Under the proposed National Land Policy, each District will have its own District Land Tribunal. This arrangement will ease the work of the tribunals and avoid the problem of one Land Tribunal handling several districts (circuiting).

Other Members of Parliament asked why the Uganda Land Commission cannot set busuulu. I wish to refer the members to the Land Act (CAP 227), Section 49 which stipulates the functions of the Uganda Land Commission. Its main function is clearly stated in Article 239 of the Constitution which is to hold and manage any land in Uganda vested in or acquired by the Government of Uganda. To assign The Uganda Land Commission managing private property or setting busuulu on private property, would require to amend Article 239 of the Constitution.

On why the ministry has not issued Certificates of Occupancy to tenants, I wish to clarify that this is the responsibility of the two parties — the tenant and the registered owner. The tenant must apply to the registered land owner and must have paid ground rent.

Furthermore, the registered land owner must be willing to grant the Certificate of Occupancy as stipulated in Section 33 (1-2) of the Land Act CAP 227. In view of the fact that District Land Boards have not determined busuulu as per the Land Amendment 2004, landlords cannot give consent to tenants to acquire Certificates of Occupancy.

District Land Boards will be given adequate guidelines on setting the annual nominal ground rent. Furthermore, according to the Land Amendment Bill, 2007, where the Board has not determined the annual nominal ground rent payable by a tenant by occupancy within six months after the commencement of this Act, the rent may be determined by the minister.

Members asked why Clause 32B of the Land Amendment Bill No. 27 of 2007 was dropped. The Government after nationwide consultations on the Bill, listened to the views of the public. The public was not happy with the phrase ‘persons claiming interest in land under customary tenure to be evicted only by Court’.

In addition, concerns were raised on the disregard of the customary dispute settlement and mediation mechanism, as provided for under Section 88 of the Land Act (CAP 227). Because the Government listens, Cabinet dropped this clause.

Members of this August House asked who set the ground rent to be nominal. I wish to inform the House that it was Parliament which passed the law providing for the annual ground rent to be nominal. This is in Section 14 of the Land Amendment Act, 2004.

Members have argued that the Bill will weaken the powers of the landlords. This is not true. On the contrary, landlords will now know their tenants so that there is no influx of squatters on their land, as used to be the case under the Busuulu and Envujjo Law of 1928.

Furthermore, the proposed Land Amendment Bill 2007 forbids tenants from selling their bibanjas without giving the owner of the land the first option to buy the kibanja. If the tenants purport to do so, they commit an offence and are liable to conviction to a fine not exceeding 96 currency points (sh1,920,000) or imprisonment not exceeding four years or both.

The Government intends to add an amendment making such transactions invalid as is the case if the landlord does not give the first option to the sitting tenant when the landlord is selling his or her registrable interests.

Whereas the landlords have not been getting any income since 1975 when the Land Reform Decree abolished busuulu, this time round they will be able to collect ground rent from their heavily tenanted land.

After the enactment of this new law, the ministry responsible for lands will develop a training manual for inducting all District Land Boards and Area Land Committees on their roles and functions under the new law. Regarding annual ground rent, guidelines will be developed for District Land Boards on procedures to determine annual nominal ground rent. The new law and the guidelines will be translated into the major local languages.

The ministry responsible for Lands will carry out nationwide sensitisation and also provide copies of the new law to all local governments up to the sub-county (LC 3).

Some Members of Parliament have argued that the Bill is not the cure for the existing rampant evictions since there already exists various provisions in the Penal Code which address the problem of illegal eviction.

The deputy Attorney General, Freddie Ruhindi was requested by the Prime Minister to respond to the Buganda attorney general. In his reply of March 22, 2008 addressed to the Prime Minister which was published in the media, he disagreed with the attorney general of Buganda.

To use Ruhindi’s words: “As noted by the Attorney General of Buganda Kingdom, the Penal Code provides for various offences like section 76 of the Penal Code Act relating to going armed in public (punishable with imprisonment for five years), section 77 relating to forcible entry (a misdemeanour), section 78 relating to forcible detainer (a misdemeanour), section 120 relating to trespassing on burial places (a misdemeanour), section 235 relating to common assault (a misdemeanour), section 236 relating to assaults causing actual bodily harm (punishable with imprisonment for five years), section 302 relating to criminal trespass (punishable with imprisonment for one year), section 335 relating to punishment for malicious injuries in general.

However, whereas all these provisions exist in the Penal Code,
(a)They are numerous provisions;

(b)They are all criminal provisions providing for imprisonment without the option of a fine;

(c)With the exception of the offence of going armed in public and that of assault causing actual bodily harm, which are punishable with imprisonment not exceeding five years, the rest of these offences are misdemeanours. Section 22 of the Penal Code provides for the punishment of misdemeanors as imprisonment not exceeding two years. The Bill, therefore, seeks to create a focused offence by providing both criminal and civil penalties and remedies in respect of illegal evictions on land in one law.

As provided in clause 32B (5) of the Bill, where a person is convicted under sub-section (4), the Court may:

(a) order that person to pay compensation or damages to the person who was evicted; or

(b) make an order for restitution in favour of the person who was evicted.

This means that the Court may sentence the convicted person and also make other appropriate orders under the same transaction. Under the current legal regime, this would be in different court proceedings; criminal and civil.”

I must point out that although the Government proposes to delete Clause 32B of the Land Amendment Bill No. 27 of 2007 which contains payment of compensation or payment of damages and restitution, these remedies are retained under Section 32A Clause 5(a) which provides that court may:

(a) order that person to pay compensation or damages to the person who was evicted; or

b) make an order for restitution in favour of the person who was evicted.

Finally, I wish to inform you that as a landlord, I have never evicted any tenant from my land. I have allowed them to become landlords by giving them an opportunity to acquire Certificates of Title. In the end, both of us are landlords.

The Land Bill will protect the rights of the minority

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