Minister Amongi shouldn’t hoodwink Ugandans. Proposed land amendments don’t favour the poor

By Dickens Kamugisha

Dear Hon. Betty Amongi,

The Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) has noted with great concern your attempts to hoodwink Ugandans into believing that amending the Constitution to provide for compulsory land acquisition is a pro-people move by government.

Last month, you stated in the New Vision that the proposed amendments, which is supported by the NRM caucus in Parliament, are meant to curb dangerous speculative behaviour while offering Ugandans the benefits of pursuing development projects.

You noted that Uganda is losing billions owing to speculators who reject low compensation. Compulsorily acquiring Ugandans’ property before compensation, you reasoned, would enable Ugandans to save billions.

Indeed you assured Ugandans that government arrives at compensation rates through a scientific and participatory process in which district land boards, in consultation with the people, and the Chief Government Valuer, set compensation.

Based on your narrative, the impression that compensation processes favour poor Ugandans was given. Indeed you gave examples of countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia where government acquires people’s property before compensation.

We want to point out that you are propagating a wrong and an unfair narrative. Compensation processes in Uganda do not favour the common man and woman and you as Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, very well know that.

We are also very well aware of this, owing to our experience in working with communities affected by compulsory land acquisitions. AFIEGO is a public policy research and advocacy non-governmental organisation dedicated to influencing energy policies to benefit the poor and vulnerable. For the last10 years, we have defended the rights of local communities against poor compensation and land grabbers and we have witnessed untold suffering many communities affected by compulsory acquisition go through across the country.

Not only does compensation delay for over 10 years in some cases, reports of low compensation are also often registered. Unfortunately for local communities, the use of cut-off dates by the government does not allow them to negotiate. They just accept whatever government gives to have something little to live on.

It is true that some people are speculators, but majority of the people you call speculators are those who withstand the negative effects of cut-off dates.  If we are looking for examples, we need not look further than here in Kampala.

I recently met a family affected by the construction of the Entebbe Expressway who told me that after their land being assessed in 2014, Uganda National Roads Authority officials recently returned to their home to see that they had not put up any new developments.

This affected person and his family live on Salama Road, and as you can imagine, the value of their land has appreciated yet the value for 2016 will not be reflected in the final compensation they will receive since their property was assessed in 2014.

This family’s experience mirrors that of many households that have been affected by compulsory land acquisitions. Families affected by the Jinja-Kenya transmission line, Mbarara-Rwanda transmission lines, the Hoima-Kaiso Tonya road, Karuma power project and the proposed oil refinery and others, all have similar stories.

You say that government incurs interest owing to failure to pay project-affected persons using loans but it is these loans that result in the loss of over Shs96 billion a year. Pray tell then Madam Minister, if government has money to compensate people, why does it fail to pay even those who have accepted payment?

It needs to be noted that district land boards are dysfunctional owing to lack of training, money and appointment letters for recorders and Area Land Committee (ALC) members. Yet you say that government wants to protect poor customary land owners who are displaced by speculators who thereafter ask for high compensation and delay government projects.

This is suspect because, despite repeated calls for certificates of customary ownership from people in Hoima and the oil region, government has not issued these certificates, but also because recorders and ALCs are not facilitated to work. They do not have appointment letters and get no salaries.

During a 2015 land rights workshop in Hoima, the chairperson of the Area Land Committee members for Buliisa District embarrassingly admitted that he had never seen the materials needed to issue customary land certificates!

Madam Minister, you need to note that government has failed or ignored the need to put in place regulations for the assessment and payment of compensation as required by section 20 of the 1965 Land Acquisition Act. The absence of compensation regulations means that there is no formal framework that can help government and landowners negotiate and determine what is timely, fair and adequate compensation as provided for under Article 26 of the Constitution.

Government uses gaps in the laws to impose unfair compensation terms on affected persons. The same government is now using its majority party members in Parliament to push through the proposed unjust laws to silence the people.  This is unfair!

Finally, you propose that for households or persons that reject low compensation, payments will be deposited in court. How will this proposal help the poor people such as those around Lake Albert to access justice when the nearest magistrate’s court is 100km away and the high court is 200km to 300 km away? How about the fact that the poor still find difficulty in accessing and understanding the court system?

Based on the above, we reiterate that you drop your proposed amendments including Clauses 3 and 4 which provide for “deposit[ing] in court or with any other competent authority the value of the property as evaluated by the Chief Government Valuer” and “Government tak[ing] possession of the property where the Government has deposited the evaluated compensation amount referred to in clause (3)”.

The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of AFIEGO.

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