By Col Shaban Bantariza
Ugandans are impatient with government for improved and accelerated services, job opportunities, local and international trade opportunities and benefits, resulting into improved purchasing power and better livelihood for families and individuals. And they are right.
But all these economic demands and benefits can only be sustainably delivered from sustainable national investments that government has to do, and expeditiously too. To that effect, government national investments which form the economic infrastructure like dams, roads and railways can’t afford to take decades under project planning and construction, and appear to be nice political promises that seem to never come to fruition.
Moreover, it is this economic infrastructure, which supports and facilitates economic activity and production, value addition, resulting into micro and macro-economic growth, which in turn, supports social infrastructure development of schools, health facilities and programs like immunization that need a lot of resource input.
So, government can’t afford to dilly dally on those objectives. But here is the catch now! To do all the above, government needs lots of inputs, especially funds which government can mobilize locally and internationally. But more importantly of these, government needs land, which it can only acquire from citizens who are the constitutional owners of land in Uganda.
The same constitution, already allows for compulsory land acquisition by government from land owners, in article 26 (a), but in 26 (b) (i), government must pay compensation promptly, fairly, adequately, and “prior to taking possession or acquisition of the property” and article 26 (2) (b) (ii) the citizens have “a right of access to a court of law by any person who has an interest or right over the property”.
It’s now from these two constitutional provisions 26 (2) (b) (i and ii) above that government is facing huddles of acquiring land to expeditiously do the national infrastructure that facilitates the economic development and growth, on which the service delivery by government depends. Let it be known that tens of thousands of citizens have given land to government, and have been compensated but a few, especially those who have speculative interests in land, have become fetters on government hand to move forward.
For example, in getting the right of way for our Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) which is to be constructed from Malaba to Kampala, to date 3,000 people from Malaba to Iganga have given their land to government, and have all been compensated. But at KM 00, the starting point at Malaba, two individuals are claiming “ownership” of that piece of land, and in case they stay in courts of law for the next five or so years our SGR won’t start.
In Namanve Central Forest Reserve, gazetted government land, encroachers have gone ahead to obtain a court injunction against eviction by SGR (government) and the same applies to encroachers in Bukasa on Lake Victoria, Wakiso district.
As for the roads, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) has done their best but similarly, on the Kampala-Entebbe Express Highway, there are still encumbrances delaying completion, and handover of the road: - at Kigo-Lunya, on the spur to Munyonyo, a Shs1.5bn valuation is still contested, the project is at halt.
At Kiwafu, a Shs1.3bn ready compensation value can’t be paid, due to dual claim of ownership, halting progress of construction.
At Abaita ababiri, a Shs324m compensation is in abeyance because the land owner wants UNRA to purchase the whole property.
At Nalumunye, UNRA has had to redesign the road because someone wanted too much value for just a rock. At KEEEW/KJE a Shs9.7bn compensation is idle because the owner (company) is in dual claim of ownership with some royals from the Buganda Kingdom etc. etc.
Just along the very important Northern Bypass, at Kyebando, a Shs308 million valuation has been idle since 2015, till this year 2017, when the landlord was finally persuaded to accept the value, but after UNRA lost almost 2 years, and paying the contractor. At Kiwatule, Shs136 million is lying idle with UNRA, because the landlord whose wall fence is the only affected part by the road, wants UNRA to take the whole property; and several others.
On the recently completed Kamwenge-Fort Portal Road, at some point, a land owner whose piece was valued at Shs80 million contested, made his own value of Shs1.5bn. UNRA was forced to redesign the road, losing time of completion, as the contractor was paid for lost time.
So, with the above scenarios, it makes a strong case for government to get constitutional authority to put the compensation value in whatever designated court, so that while other court proceedings go on, Uganda doesn’t standstill on development progress because of a few difficult citizens, especially those who want to profiteer from land speculation including government land encroachers who now are also running to court for court injunctions.
While tens of thousands have given consent, taken their prompt, adequate compensation, it should be of no harm to one’s right to have court arbitration, but as national investments go on, and Ugandans get services from their taxes. So, it’s not “land grabbing” by government as some misinformers are campaigning, it’s national investment for national development without depriving any citizen of his/her right of ownership. Let us debate the amendment, refine it, and remove handcuffs and fetters from the development hands of government for the good of Uganda today and its posterity.
Col Bantariza is the Deputy Executive Director of the Uganda Media Center