Activists demand to know govt position on land amendment Bill

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Oxfam’s Patience Akumu (left) addresses the media with Action Aid’s Fredrick Kawooya (centre) and PELUM’s Josephine Akia Luyimbazi at Uganda Land Alliance offices in Ntinda. Photo by Juliet Kasirye

Land rights activists have asked the Government to come out and declare their stand on the proposed amendment to Article 26 of the Constitution.

“There is uncertainty, the people are anxious. We cannot assume that the Bill is dead just because the debate has gone silent. Let government come out openly and withdraw the bill so that the people can get the assurance that their land right is protected,” said Fred kawooya, the chairperson Uganda Land Alliance.

The infamous proposal to amend Article 26 was introduced last year. Among others, it sought to give government powers to compulsorily acquire land. The article provides for protection from deprivation of property.

The Bill was outrightly rejected prompting government, through the minister of justice and constitutional affairs, Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, to recall it to cabinet.

Appearing before the committee on legal and parliamentary affairs, he said that they were recalling the Bill for further scrutiny.

While addressing journalists on Wednesday at the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) offices in Ntinda, Kawooya noted that Ugandans are on tenterhooks due to the silence and demanded that the Government comes out to state its position on the Bill.

“Our plea is that this must be concluded so that Ugandans can stop waiting,” he noted.

David Pulkol, the executive director of the African Leadership Institute, described the government move as a tactical one which is likely to resurrect once it re-organises itself.

“The citizens should not relax, it is not over yet,” he said.

He explained that during the formation of the Constitution, the constituent assembly gave government powers to acquire land but put safeguards to ensure that the acquisition is not for personal interests.

He noted that under the article, the assembly made sure that incase a private developer wanted land, they discuss it directly with the owners.

“People should not suffer after giving out their land for public good. They should be able to benefit from it,” he said.

He added that citizens need assurance that they will be compensated, at market price, before their land is taken and they had a right to seek redress in case of abuse.

He noted that several attempts have been made by government to amend the article and asked legislators not to slumber and caught unaware.

While referring to the Apaa land saga, Pulkol advised government to give citizens the right to be shareholders in private companies instead of evicting them from their source of livelihood.

He explained that the land should have been valued and a share capital made so that the locals can have shares in these private companies so that they earn dividends to supplement their incomes.

Algresia Akwi Ogojo, the ULA executive director, asked the legislators to be sensitive and mindful of the land question, noting that it was thoroughly debated in the Constituent Assembly and Ugandans should live with the decision which was made then.

“Land is the only resource we have, if taken away from us, they will have rendered us nationless and without citizenship. A Ugandan without land is not a citizen and does not have an identity,” she said.

Anna Ebaju Adeke the female youth MP, noted that instead of creating regressive laws, government should be more concerned with how to tackle corruption in the implementation of its projects.

“Land is not a major hindrance to the implementation of development projects. These projects are hampered by government officials who inflate the costs of the project and later keep the bigger chunks for themselves,” Ebaju said.

The activists noted that by passing the amendment, the existing land abuses will be legitimised, leaving Ugandans economically and socially poor.

They want government to instead deal with corruption and inflated costs in compensation processes and also invest in the judiciary so that land matters are expeditiously resolved.

Source: New Vision