By Doris Atwijukire
Recently, the media has been awash with news about government officials being implicated in billions of shillings Land scams by the Land probe. Among those implicated include; the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) officials, Districts Land Board officials, Registrars of titles, Police and Resident District Commissioners (RDCs).
The most recent story was where the ULC officials are reportedly to have colluded with fake claimants who presented fictitious documents, including letters of administration and powers of attorney, to claim billions of shillings in Kibaale district.
Other land frauds that have been reported by the media in a period of less than a month now include; reported Shs16 billion Land scam involving lawyers and senior officials at ULC.
These were accused of fraudulently acquiring more than Shs16 billion meant to compensate 20 claimants from land Fund. Reported Shs1.8 billion land fraud involving former registrar of titles, Mukono regarding irregular issuance of land titles. A land scam involving the former chairperson Kibaale District Land Board, Mr. George William Bigirwa. He confessed that during his tenure as Land Board Chair, he processed titles for Land measuring more than 600 acres, valued at Shs1.5 billion and was paid part of the money from Land Fund among others.
Most complaints made to the Commission of inquiry in to land matters originate from failures, weaknesses and corruption in the land administration and management system, and deliberate circumventing of and noncompliance with due process.
They include; cases of land grabbing, forgery of titles, overlapping land rights, ‘missing documents', bribery through request for ‘fuel money' to conduct site visits, unofficial payments without receipts, exclusive use of brokers in order to get services and favoritism, access to services by brokers after office hours and using unconventional means such as transacting via windows which all are indications of questionable integrity levels in land administration.
As Ugandans we applaud the media for being vigilant and outspoken in exposing corruption in the land sector and showcasing impactful ways of resisting corruption. Also, we applaud the Land Commission of inquiry for expeditiously and transparently addressed the various corruption allegations of land officials that have made the news since it commenced operations.
The land fraud incidences have had an effect on the cost of transaction and the time of getting Land services. It has also undermined and eroded security of tenure for land owners, subjecting them to further marginalization, as their land is grabbed by the government officials and wealthy individuals who through manipulation of the land administration institutions acquire titles resulting into evictions and destruction of property among others.
It's so absurd that the institutions such as District Land Boards and Uganda Land Commission, the organs legally mandated to protect people's land rights are the very ones in the face of such illegalities.
In the case to issuance of multiple titles for example on customary tenure, ordinarily, when an individual applies for a new title over formally unregistered land, he or she fills in an application form, which includes among others details about the person, the area of the land and the purpose for the use of the land.
The form is then submitted to the area land committee which then inspects the area to ensure that the land in question is not in dispute and also gets the neighbours to the land to confirm that the applicant indeed owns the land. The confirmation is done by signing on the form. The land is then advertised by the committee by pinning a notice on the notice board and in the newspapers for two weeks.
When there is no claim to the land after the notice period, the committee writes a report which is then submitted to the District Land Board. The Board mandates the applicant to make a survey of the land so as to set boundaries. The land Board then makes an offer to the applicant and after payment of requisite fees, a certificate of ownership is processed and given to the applicant; the area land committee, district land board, local council officials, neighbours are all actors in the process.
It therefore remains inexplicable that one can apply for a new title over a vast piece of land, and goes through the entire process and acquires title to land that is occupied by hundreds of households without the knowledge of the community.
Similarly, there is clear a procedure a land owner goes through to claim compensation from Uganda Land Fund under Uganda Land Commission. Then, the question is how does a whole institution like Uganda Land Commission fail to determine the rightful owner of the land and instead compensate the fake claimants and people who are already dead?
The land administration institutions need to be closely supervised and monitored to keep them on check and ensure integrity is upheld at all times. Also, Civil Society Organizations including media and religious bodies must play a fundamental role in holding public land officers to account and informing and educating the greater public of the ways in which to protect their land rights.
Government should thoroughly get to the bottom of the Land fraud matters, apply the rule of law and deal with the culprits as the laws of the country demand. This will contribute to restoring public confidence in the Land sector and the ability of institutions of state to fight corruption and protect citizen rights.
The writer is works with the Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED)