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WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES

Land probe is Exposing Speculators and Racketeers

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UGANDA: The Justice Catherine Bamugemereire ongoing judicial inquiry into land matters has as expected generated multi-dimensional controversies with some people, especially those in the financial sector, lawyers in private practice, and some beneficiaries accusing the commission of witch-hunt, abrasiveness, one-sidedness, and not offering them adequate space to respond to all issues. In a country where those with power and money are so accustomed to impunity and impudence, they shouldn’t cry when facing hard tackling.
The loudest cry has so far come from an unexpected quarter, the Lands minister, Betty Amongi Ongom, who supervises land administration, and is expected to implement some of the commission’s recommendations with regard to amendments in the law and policies governing land acquisition and administration in Uganda. Early this month there was what many construed as a well-planned and orchestrated campaign in parliament and from sections of the media castigating the commission for alleged ‘squandering’ so far 13bn, and still asking for more, when its results, according to them, are not being visibly seen.
It looked like the slander campaign was intended to pressure President Yoweri Museveni into not extending the Commission’s tenure, and thereby ask it to quickly wind up an inconclusive investigation, and save some powerful personalities embarrassments. But as usual President Museveni disregarded the avalanche, and extended the Commission’s term by a further six months and directed the treasury to add it  more 7bn/=.
It is perhaps necessary to state that the Bamugemereire Commission has so far, if nothing else, helped expose and shame senior government officials, big business people and their underlings as some sort of mafia, racketeering from government estates, and laundering money.
While a Commission of inquiry may have specific terms of reference, in general terms, they usually help break archaic, non-functional, compromised and financially expensive government traditional systems like courts of law that appear to be beyond the reach of common people so much oppressed and in need of help. In this regard, it is therefore important that Commissions are supported in more flexible ways and not to only focus on the amount of money they may consume during investigations as some MPs and sections of the media seem to suggest.
What is emerging so far from this investigation appears to be a pattern where those with insider knowledge of government estates and bureaucracy especially government senior  officials, land speculators and business people , weaved networks to acquire proprietorship of either private or public land for a song.
Using this insider knowledge, some them then approached their networks within government ministries including the ministry of finance to access colossal sums of money from the Land Fund quite often at exorbitant prices set by themselves, and there was no one to verify values attached and demanded. In many of these cases there is evidence of abuse of office by public officials, influence peddling by ‘big’ and politically connected people, and blatant corruption which they didn’t even bother to attempt hiding perhaps knowing they were beyond reach, and so, it is good they are getting exposed.
Some people have claimed that the Bamugemereire inquiry is hurting President Museveni, government, and NRM standing especially when they come just before election campaigns, or when government is trying to showcase its manifesto achievements, which I disagree with. Firstly, President Museveni doesn’t condone corruption or abuse of office, and therefore it is good when he speaks so often and loud against it, and the appointment of commissions of inquiry should be testimony to his stand.
It is also important to remember that that over the years President Museveni has instituted many commissions of inquiry, among them to deal with rot in the Uganda police (1997/98), Uganda Revenue Authority (2002), Global Fund (2005), and recently the Uganda National Roads Authority (2015), not as mere public relations gimmicks, but as serious efforts to deal with corruption and inertia.
In fact, both the Global Fund inquiry chaired Justice James Ogoola, and UNRA inquiries were conducted when President Museveni and NRM were facing very tough multiparty elections, and at that time, some faint hearted NRM people expressed apprehension and silently castigated President for appointing the Commissions and permitting them run their full course.
And none of these inquiries have gone without serious criticisms on the way they handle those accused or witnesses who appeared before them, cost, and in some cases even the contents of the reports. In the URA inquiry, two commissioners, James Kahoza and Favin Cousens even disowned aspects of the report, in addition to it being challenged in courts of law by those who felt aggrieved. However, one common feature in all these reports is that they have been implemented and major concerns addressed including achieving institutional improvements as the police, Global Fund, URA and UNRA demonstrate today.
And while some people may see commissions of inquiry as an inconvenience, it may as well be true, and yes, in fact, they are supposed to inconvenience the corrupt and financial racketeers who seek to cheat the public of services, and we shouldn’t have any apologies for them.

Source: Uganda Media Centre

DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.

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By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo district leaders have embraced Witness Radio’s collaboration with the Kiryandongo district aimed at ending the rampant violent and illegal land evictions that have significantly harmed the livelihoods of the local communities in the area.

The warm welcome was made at the dialogue organized by Witness Radio Uganda, Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog at the Kiryandongo district headquarters, intended to reflect on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

Speaking at the high-level dialogue, that was participated in by technical officers, policy implementers, religious leaders, leaders of project affected persons (PAPs), politicians, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and development partners that support land and environment rights as well as the Land Based Investments (LBIs) Companies in the Kiryandongo district, the leaders led by the District Local Council 5 Chairperson, Ms. Edith Aliguma Adyeri appreciated the efforts taken by Witness Radio organization to organize the dialogue meeting aimed at bringing together stakeholders to safeguard community land and environmental rights in order address the escalating vice of land grabbing in the area.

During the dialogue, participants shared harrowing accounts of the impacts of land evictions and environmental degradation, including tragic deaths, families torn asunder, young girls forced into marriage, a surge in teenage pregnancies, limited access to education, and significant environmental damage which have profoundly affected the lives of the local population in Kiryandongo.

Participants attending the dialogue.

In recent years, Kiryandongo district has been embroiled in violent land evictions orchestrated to accommodate multinational large-scale agriculture plantations and wealthy individuals leaving the poor marginalized.

According to various reports, including findings from Witness Radio’s 2020 research Land Grabs at a Gun Point, the forceful land acquisitions in Kiryandongo have significantly impacted the livelihoods of local communities. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 individuals have been displaced from their land to make room for land-based investments in the Kiryandongo district. However, leaders in the district also revealed in the dialogue that women and children are affected most.

The Kiryandongo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Jonathan Akweteireho, emphasized that all offices within the Kiryandongo district are actively involved in addressing the prevalent land conflicts. He also extended a welcome to Witness Radio, acknowledging their collaborative efforts in tackling and resolving land and environmental issues in the district.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the land rights together with environmental rights have been violated in our district, but because we don’t know what our rights are, because we have not directly done what we could to safeguard our rights and now this is the time that Witness Radio has brought us together to safeguard our rights. I want to welcome you in Kiryandongo and be rest assured that we shall give you all the necessary support to help us manage these rampant cases,” Ms. Adyeri said in her remarks during the dialogue meeting.

The team leader at Witness Radio Uganda, Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala expressed gratitude to the participants for their active involvement in the dialogue and revealed that Witness Radio’s objective is to find a holistic solution to the escalating land disputes in Kiryandongo district serving as an example to other districts.

“We are here to assist Kiryandongo district in attaining peace and stability because it stands as a hotspot for land grabbers in Uganda. Mismanagement of land conflicts in Uganda could potentially lead to a significant internal conflict. Everywhere you turn, voices are lamenting the loss of their land and property. Kiryandongo, abundant with ranches, suffers from a lack of a structured framework, which amplifies these land conflicts. The influx of wealthy investors further complicates the situation,” Mr. Ssebaggala disclosed.

Within the dialogue, Mr. Ssebaggala emphasized the need for the Kiryandongo district council to pass a by-law aimed at curbing land evictions as an initial step in addressing the prevalent land injustices.

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WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES

Kiryandongo authorities decry rising cases of land disputes

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The LC5 chairperson of Kiryandongo, Ms Edith Aliguma Adyeri, has saidnland dispute has impacted on people’s lives, dignity and children’s education in the district.

Just like other parts of Uganda, conflicts over land in Kiryandongo arise when individuals – who often are blood relatives – compete for use of the same parcel of land or when members of the community lay claim over ownership of unutilised government land.

Ms Adyeri further said land and environmental rights affect people both directly and indirectly, “and we are not hearing it from afar. It is already together with us [here], it has already affected us!”

She was speaking at a meeting which sought to discuss alternative remedies to salvage the appalling land and environmental rights situation in Kiryandongo at the district headquarters on Thursday.

The one-day dialogue was aimed at reflecting on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

It was attended by private companies, members of civil society and local government officials and organised by Witness Radio – an advocate for land and environmental rights in Uganda – in partnership with Oxfam, and Kiryandongo District leadership.

“Some people have even died, families are broken up, and brothers are not seeing eye-to-eye because of land rights. Access to justice is equally becoming very difficult because when you hire one lawyer that
lawyer will talk to learned friends, and they agree. They leave you in suspense,” Ms Adyeri said.

According to her, some children have not accessed education because of land and environmental rights.

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the deputy Resident District Commissioner of Kiryandongo, said enlightened people especially should be sensitive to the historical injustice of this area.

“We can never handle the Bonyoro land question without thinking about that history. It will be an injustice to the incomers, to the government and to the leaders who don’t understand,” he said.

“We had 38 ranches here which on the guidance of these international organisations, especially the World Bank, the government restructured them, allowing people to settle there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he added.

Mr Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the executive director of Witness Radio, said that a well-functional land sector supports land users or holders and investors, reduces inefficiencies and provides mechanisms to resolve land disputes.

Mr David Kyategeka, the secretary to the Kiryandongo District Land Board, said the issue of land rights is very clear but the major challenge has been sensitising the locals to know what rights he or she expects to enjoy out of this very important resource.

Source: www.monitor.co.ug

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels

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The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.

From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.

The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.

In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.

The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to

  • fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
  • avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
  • strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.

Source: iisd.org

Download the statement: https://www.iisd.org/system/files/2023-09/ngo-statement-on-energy-sector-strategy-2024-2028.pdf

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