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Land registrar admits to issuing fake land titles

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In one of the most heart-rending revelations, a senior registrar of titles at the ministry of Lands, has admitted masterminding a fraudulent land transaction in which she created and issued a fake special certificate of land title, that may see 161 households including the auditor general John Muwanga evicted.

Acting against the provisions of the law, Luella Ataro Bogere, without any due consideration of the normal procedures, acted illegally and created a special certificate of title for land under contention, located on Block 185, Plot 1131 at Namavundu sub-county Wakiso district. The fake title was created in the name of Peninah Karenge Busingye.

In collaboration with other surveyors, among them Vianney Lutaaya, a surveyor in the ministry of Lands, Ataro, issued a special certificate of title, knowing that all the plots in the mother certificate had proprietors.

Ataro did not also consider the normal procedures that when somebody applies for special certificate of title, the registrar has to wait for 30 days after an announcement is made in the national gazette.

Appearing before the Commission of Inquiry into land matters on November 20, the senior registrar of titles failed to defend herself saying it was an oversight. The commission is investigating allegations of double titling of land in Namavundu, Kasangati town council in Wakiso district. Commissioner Fred Ruhindi put Ataro to task to explain why she is always implicated in serious land fraudlent deals.

“This is not the first time you have caused a change in proprietorship on people’s titles. And this one is gigantic. What is it that it is you constantly? How many times so far have you been here on very grave matters and this one is worse? You have been compromised to the marrow,” Ruhindi said.

“You knew the transactions were taking place on this title but you didn’t act. Don’t try to white wash things here… but even if you wanted to do things fishy, you can’t even do it nicely”.

Ruhindi lashed out at the way the likes of Ataro testify against complainants in court.

“In courts of law you are the very people who go and testify against the complainants and testify against the commission. You earn twice from your deals. You earn from a person claiming money from government and the ones you are giving fake titles. Assuming our commission never came into existence, how could you actually cover this?” Ruhindi asked.

Commissioner Mary Oduka questioned why Ataro decided to ignore the statutory 30 days required by the law before issues of the fraudulent title.

“How much money was that that was involved that you couldn’t even wait for the days (30 days). Don’t tell me it was an oversight, you didn’t know. Not even God will listen to it.” said Oduka..

This is the fourth time Ataro whose name has hit the post office box for notorious fraudulent land deals, is appearing and being questioned before the commission. In June 2017, the Land Probe chairperson, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire ordered for the arrest of Ataro who she accused of obstructing justice and disrespect. Ataro was detained at Wandegeya police station.

Ataro, who was then appearing for the second time before the commission to explain her role in the issuance of a set of land titles to individuals in wetlands located at Kijabijo, was also accused of telling lies by the commission.

”And I am asking you again today and you said no. What exactly do you mean? Which means you actually knew about it”, a visibly exasperated Bamugemereire said.

Ataro who had been avoiding some of the questions put to her by the commission could not, despite overwhelming evidence from witnesses, admit that she had a hand in deceptive land deals and did not follow right due procedures when processing applications leading to grant of certificate of titles in wetlands.

Records obtained by the commission showed that title 170 plot 644 was registered by Ataro and her senior land management officer, Satya Mwangushya without following laid down procedures. The two, the commission heard, avoided the district land officer and the district land board by approving the award of certificate of titles in a wetland.

In March 2018, the commission told Ataro to resign after she was accused of allegedly conniving with land grabbers to take the central forest reserve in Ssayi, Mukono municipality, and soliciting for money in order to sign transfer forms.

The revelation followed an earlier testimony from one Evelyn Kafeero, who had wanted to transfer a piece of land she bought from Jude Clement Kidega in 2014. Ataro, the commission heard, refused to sign the transfer forms and instead demanded for Shs 10 million for the transaction.

Kidega, an employee of ministry of Works, is also accused of selling part of Ssayi central forest reserve in Mukono, which is under contention to Kafeero, admitted before the commission that he paid Shs 10m to Ataro to help her sign his transfer forms

The land probe team also heard that Ataro illegally authorised the sub division of Kabaka’s land at block 369 plot 3 at Golomolo Kiyaga without Buganda kingdom’s consent. It is alleged that Ataro, through  a mutation form, authorised the sub-division of Kabaka’s land from block 369 into plots 8,9,10, 11 and 13.

Mutation is the transfer or change of title ownership from one person to another when the property is sold. 
Ataro has further been implicated in the issuing of title in Mabira central forest reserve to Nurdin Yusuf and Bashir Yusuf illegally.

In all these incidences, Ataro, vehemently denied any involvement in the bribery scandal.

“My lord, it is not true that I received money. It is totally false,” Ataro said. She also stated that she did not know that the land in dispute was a forest reserve.

But in a turn of events and unlike other appearances where denial was been the order of the day, Ataro, who was again arraigned before the commission this time round succumbed to her deceitful woes and admitted creating the special title for the Namavundu land located on block 185, plot 1131 in the names of Peninah Karenge Busingye.

“My lord and commissioners, it was an oversight and I apologise for it, I did not know the magnitude of the problem but now I realise there was a problem,” Ataro told the commission during cross examination.

She admitted she did not advertise the application for the special title in the newspapers, as it is required by law, to establish whether or not there were people with interest on the land.

But this did not solve the equation: “The way you minimalise mistakes by saying it was an oversight…, I apologise…is rather appalling. You issued the certificate of title in violation of all the rules, regulations and procedures of the law. You had made up your mind that you have to get a title out” Justice Bamugemereire.

“This thing of titling a certificate that belongs to over 160 people and you keep saying I apologise is ridiculous.”

Documents tendered before the commission show that the fraudulent special title was issued only nine days after the application was submitted as opposed to the 30 statutory days required by law.

Furthermore, the commission found out that the special title that was supposed to be issued in the original names, was instead issued in the in the name of Natasha Karenge. Kerenge has been summoned to appear before the commission. However, last week he submitted a letter, to the commission purporting that she was indisposed and that her doctor had prescribed a bed rest. Karenge asked to be given some time before she can appear before the commission.

The presence of the illegal special title came to the forefront when one Karenge together with her daughter, Natasha Karenge, under duress, fenced off the land claimed by one Stanley Lwanga, who holds the original title of the land under contention.

Lwanga, a retired accountant formerly with the ministry of Health, is one of the 161 households in Namavundu who face eviction as a result of the fraudulent transaction. Others include the auditor general, John Muwanga.

The land probe commission was created by President Yoweri Museveni in December 2016 and is chaired by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire. Bamugemereire is assisted by six commissioners; Fredrick Ruhindi, Dr Rose Nakayi, George Bagonza Tinkamanyire, Joyce Gunze Habaasa, Mary Oduka Ochan and Robert Ssebunnya

The commission’s lead counsel is Ebert Byenkya while the deputy and assistant lead counsels are John Bosco Suuza and Andrew Odiit respectively. The commission’s mandate is to probe the efficiency of the laws, policies and processes of land registration, acquisition, administration and management.

It is also tasked with inquiring into the effectiveness of the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) in administering public land and relevant bodies in the reservation of wetlands, forests, road reserves and national parks.

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food

Gov’t body evicts hundreds, orders the remaining families on the land to de-molish their houses…

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By Witness Radio

A forest body in Uganda, the National Forestry Authority (NFA) is displacing over 700 poor families that have lawfully settled and cultivated their land since the 1920s. The targeted land is needed to plant monoculture trees.

The National Forestry Authority is a semi-autonomous statutory body established by c National Forestry and Tree Planting Act of 2003 and it’s charged with the responsibility to manage and control the country’s forests.

The land measuring about 2900 acres is located at Yandwe village, Butuntumula Sub County in Luweero district in Buganda region, in Uganda.

The forest authority is responsible for causing loss of properties and committing human rights violations/abuses against local and indigenous communities as land belonging to them is leased out to investors to plant trees for carbon offsets without following due processes.

According to Global Forest Watch (GFW), in 2010, Uganda had a tree cover of 6.93 Mha, extending over 29% of its land area. However as of 2020 the GFW latest data presented a tree cover loss of 76.3 kha in Uganda. In the same year, Luwero district was named with the most tree cover loss. It lost 9.10kha of tree cover, equivalent to 4.48Mt of CO₂ emissions.

Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration asserts that ‘environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens. This principle is seen to be in reverse in Uganda’s practice.

Before forced evictions which started in 2015, families used the land for subsistence farming to raise money to meet basic needs and grow food for feeding, burial grounds and constructed permanent houses that have earned them a sense of belonging for generations but NFA has since destroyed 70% of their heritage.

Since 2015, the families have been forcefully evicted without court orders, prior consultation, and consent to give away their land. “There has not been any single document that permitted them to evict us since 2015. They came with graders, armed police, and soldiers to terrorize the whole village and enforce their evictions. We were not informed, consulted, and neither did we consent to give them our land.” The local council chairman, Mr. Buule Cossy, also one of the affected said in an interview with Witness Radio – Uganda.

According to documents seen by Witness Radio – Uganda, ownership of land by the indigenous community is traced between the 1910s and early 1920s. Some locals have receipts indicating payments made to the then colonial matters while others have presented sale agreements.

On a fateful night, 18th March 2019, the entire village of Yandwe woke up to face the wrath of armed police, soldiers, and armed workers of NFA. Victims narrated that armed groups burnt their houses, razed gardens, and looted their properties at gunpoint before the majority of community members fled their homes.

The violence orchestrated by different armed groups left one villager identified as Ntalo Simon shot and badly wounded.

“We had one incident in which our community member Ntale was shot in the process of eviction and the victim was badly wounded while others were beaten, houses demolished and crops were cut down,” Buule confirmed.

The NFA claims that residents are occupying the forest land illegally. According to residents, Mbale Forestry Reserve was gazetted in 1967 as a central forest reserve land, found their ancestors already on the land. They claim they are the lawful owners of the land and accuse the NFA of forcefully grabbing their land tactically.

Another victim, Katongole John said his grandparents settled on this land in 1915 and claimed that they were paying some dues to the colonial administrators then.

“Upon making payment, colonial matters would issue a certificate known as an occupational license to the payee. The documents would prove land ownership”. he claimed.

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Corporate Accountability

Signs of harmful projects with financing from development institutions are spotted in Uganda…

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By Witness Radio Team.

The growth of a country is discerned by great leaders and innovators who see opportunities out of darkness and transform their areas from nothing to success. Those are great leaders whose interest is to see the developments in their countries and the well-being of their citizens.

Every single day, countries all over the world receive investors that acquire loans, grants, and donations to implement mega projects that are seemingly expected to develop host countries. countries and investors borrowing the money Often, countries and investors portray how these projects improve the livelihood of the browbeaten, au contraire, they have left many broken families, poor-dirty homesteads, and shattered dreams.

Uganda is one of those countries, whose citizens have paid a price for reckless or unsupervised and profit-led international investment. In a bid to implement its industrial policy, the country has welcomed both foreign and local investors with interests in the fields of extraction, industrial agriculture, carbon credit tree plantation, mining, infrastructural projects, and many others.

It has received billions of dollars from different financiers including commercial banks, Pension Funds, and International Development Finance Banks or institutions, among others. For instance, the World Bank has invested more than 20 Billion Dollars since 1963 and currently

Every project comes with its own chilling story. More often their stories are unheard by the World. Witness Radio – Uganda surveyed some projects in Uganda. This study revealed agony, illegal evictions, abject poverty, environmental degradation, and loss of life among others, as some of the consequences suffered by the would-be beneficiaries of these international funded projects across the country.

In the capital of Uganda, Kampala, over 1750 families were forcefully evicted from a city suburb, Naguru, for Naguru- Nakawa housing estates.  11 years down the road the project that was highly hyped is to take off on the grabbed land. Pleas from the victims of the eviction to regain their land have all fallen on deaf ears.

About 80km away from Kampala is the island district of Kalangala surrounded by the World’s second-largest lake, Victoria, and known for palm growing. When the palm-oil project was introduced to residents they were given the impression that it would improve their livelihoods and create job opportunities.  Instead, it has dumped thousands into poverty after their land was grabbed by BIDCO, a Wilmer international-funded project. People lost land and now work on plantations as casual laborers. The neighboring communities are accusing BIDCO workers of sexual and gender-based violence.

In the South-Western District of Kiryandongo, multinational companies including Agilis Partners Limited, Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, and Great Seasons SMC Limited with funding from The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, and Common Fund for Commodities among other financiers are forcefully evicting more than 35,000 people. The eviction has been on since 2017.

Workers that worked on a World Bank Project in Soroti, in the far east of the country, are accused of sexually harassing minors. Several young girls were defiled and left pregnant. Despite the government being aware of this none of the pedophiles have been brought to book, the World Bank-funded project in the Eastern Town of Soroti left several underage girls defiled and impregnated.

In late 2020, residents of Kawaala zone II woke up to the hail of armed men and graders evicting and destroying their properties to implement a multimillion-dollar project funded by the World Bank. The project is being implemented by the Kampala Capital city Authority (KCCA) on behalf of the government of Uganda.

The above-listed and other projects, on the other hand, continue to perpetuate violence and judicial harassment against leaders of Project Affected Persons (PAPs) and community land and environmental rights defenders because of their work that resists illegal evictions and destruction of the environment among others.

Although project implementers such as government entities accuse local communities of occupying land targeted for projects illegally, in most cases victim communities have rights over these pieces of land because their settlement on the same land can be traced to have happened generations ago.

No matter how people are negatively impacted being by these harmful projects, financiers continue to release more money to the government and investors. The banks aim at profit margins other than the livelihoods of the people. In Bulebi village, Mbazi parish, Mpunge Sub County in Mukono district, Akon’s futuristic city is about to lead to the eviction of over 1000 residents whose entire lives have been built on their land.

In April last year, American rapper Aliaune Damala Badara well known for his stage name AKON visited Uganda in search of land for constructing the city. On the same business trip, he met President Museveni Yoweri Kaguta and expressed his interest in building a futuristic city with its currency. The president ordered the Ministry of Lands, housing, and urban development to look out for free land for his city.

However, on 7th Jan 2022, the Uganda Land Commission showed the Minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development “Hon Judith Nabakooba” land that was proposed for the Akon city. According to the Uganda land commission, the land is Freehold Volume 53 Folio 9 measuring I square mile.

This has sparked outrage amongst the affected as they were never consulted or consented to allow the project in their community. According to community members that Witness Radio interviewed, they said they heard the distressing news of Akon city through the Media.

The community said no official from the ministry has ever approached them about their land giveaway. “Our country is full of land evictions and evictors begin in that way. There has been no official coming on the ground to officially inform us about the project and neither have we heard any official communication of compensation.” Obori said.

Residing in the attractive village surrounded by freshwaters, the community asserts this has been the source of livelihood and advised the government to get alternative land for the City.

Controversies surrounding the land giveaway and ownership of the area still exist. A section of residents have protested and vowed not to surrender their land for the City. They claim to have acquired freehold titles from the Mukono lands board.

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Corporate Accountability

Breaking: over 350,000 acres of land were grabbed during Witness Radio – Uganda’s seven months ban.

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By Witness Radio Team.

As the onslaught on civil society heightens, its space continues to shrink which has bearing on the services they render to the communities. Witness Radio, was among the 54 organizations suspended by Uganda’s National Bureau for Nongovernmental Organizations on August 20th, 2021. The actions are amongst the recent forms of attack on civil societies in Uganda. Other numerous attacks include arrests of rights activists, harassment, tortures, and office- break-ins at night by security operatives who move away with valuables.

The effects of this suspension were felt by communities facing land grabs across the country. For seven months while the organization was suspended, over 300,000 people were evicted from their land and couldn’t access specialized and prompt legal assistance.

Witness Radio Uganda, globally known for its campaign against community land-grabs couldn’t assist these victims of land grab since it risked facing further sanctions from the Bureau in case it intervened. However, last week, there was some relief, when Uganda’s National Bureau for NGOs lifted suspension and certified its operation.

According to Mrs. Bulyerali Joan, the Head Legal at Witness Radio – Uganda, the organization conducted a review of the evictions that happened during the suspension. With information and assistance from some lawyers, local journalists, and community land and environmental rights defenders across the country, the evictions watchdog was able to document cases of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans that were either forcefully evicted or received threats of evictions while in its limbo.

The ban imposed on Witness Radio coupled with the disruptive impacts of COVID- 19 resulted in the surge of eviction cases, especially in areas where the organization had a presence. Throughout the ban, without access to swift and prompt legal support, the communities resorted to sharing with the world their ordeal.

She further noted that the evictions were conducted in disregard of the law on evictions. “I was shocked to see powerful people and companies take advantage of our suspension to escalate the evictions of vulnerable communities that received our assistance. The evictions did not comply with the land eviction practice directives. None of them was preceded by legal court orders.”  She noted.

According to the Land Eviction directives, issued by the former Chief Justice of Uganda, Bart Katureebe, evictions shall be preceded by valid court order, properly identifying the persons taking part in the eviction, and upon presentation of formal authorizations. The police and local authority of the area shall be notified and shall be present to witness the evictions, among others.

Based on the data gathered by the team, various communities across the country were left dispossessed by land grabbers without any form of assistance. Others have received threatening messages with intentions of dispossessing them off their land.

During the period under review, over 300,000 people across the country are believed to have been threatened with evictions, while 350,000 acres of land were either grabbed or on verge of being grabbed.

“However much, we gathered this information, we expect the cases to be higher because some evictions go unreported either due to the remoteness of the areas or other related factors.” One of the collaborators observed.

The evictions were extremely violent.  They were characterized by kidnaps, arrests and detentions, torture that often-caused unexpected grief to the communities.

Among the most affected districts include Kyankwanzi, Mubende, Kassanda, Hoima, Buikwe, Wakiso, Kikuube, and Bulambuli districts.

In some of the mentioned districts, the Lands, Housing, and Urban Development Minister toured and halted the evictions but the evictors continued unabated.

Mr. Kimazi Experito, a journalist based in Mubende, attributed the rise of evictions to the organization’s suspension which denied the evictions-affected communities access to specialized legal assistance.

He said Witness Radio has offered support to over 20 land-grab-affected communities in Mubende with legal support. “Witness radio is a game-changer that brought back lives of evicted communities to normal,” he lauded.

“Mubende is one of the fastest-growing areas because of gold and other minerals as well as factors related to fertile soils. Currently, it is one of the hotspots of evictions. Opportunists used this chance to grab land from people with full attention. Without the defenders, it’s often hard for people to get justice since local people are not much informed about land laws.” Kimazi explained.

Engineered by powerful people in public offices, multinational companies, and politicians using state machinery including the army and national police, forced evictions to continue to affect food sovereignty and threaten the role of indigenous communities to protect the environment.

During the same period, President Yoweri Museveni stopped any eviction without the approval of the Resident District Commissioners. However, legal experts warned that the move is to usurp the powers of the Judiciary. In a statement signed by Pheona Nabasa Wall, the Uganda Law Society President noted that the directive undermined the role and independence of courts in handling eviction matters.

That notwithstanding, “Occasionally, the residents are not given any opportunity to negotiate with the landlords. Even when the government obliges to pay landowners, neither does the government nor the evictor compensate for the damaged property. During evictions, properties that were made for their life end up being destroyed in seconds which causes lifetime misery.” Paul Kasoozi, a community land rights defender stated.

With different tactics aimed at alienating the poor from their land, it has been established that the police and the army continued to play a huge role in the largest forms of violent evictions through torture, arbitrary arrests, and detention and instilling fear and pressurizing the local communities to vacate their land on orders of the evictors.

Many of those community members who oppose land evictions end up being kidnapped, tortured, or arrested and detained to silence the community. It takes support from an organization defending communities’ land rights to intervene for such communities to get justice.

Days before the lifting of the suspension imposed on Witness Radio, communities neighboring the Katta Barracks in Bulambuli district, were violently evicted by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces under the alleged command of Lieutenant Colonel Mukiibi Julius without offering alternative resettlement.

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