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NITA boss cited in Shs 928m Land Fund mess

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The executive director of the National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) James Saaka has come under the spotlight before the Land Probe Commission over the Shs 402 million he received from the Land Fund.
Saaka received the money in 2015 as partial payment of the Shs 928 million for plot 1, block 141 in Buterere-Bugangayizi in Kibaale district measuring about 640 acres.
He appeared before the Commission chaired by Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, which has been investigating the processes in the Land Fund since last week. The Land Fund is a multi-purpose resource envelope meant to serve targeted beneficiaries, including tenants seeking to buy or own land.

Its also meant to finance the purchase of land by government for redistribution to bonafide occupants or resettlement of the landless people among others. Saaka is among a group of individuals, majority being government officials, who have benefited from the Land Fund.

Asked by the Commission’s lead counsel, Ebert Byenkya whether he owned the property in question, Saaka said the land belonged to his late father, Edward Batimbo Ssebuko who passed it to his children including him, the late Benedict Kitanwa, Annet Natuma, Peter Ssebuko and the late Ronald Mark.

Byenkya asked Saaka to explain how his father acquired the land. Saaka said his father acquired the land in 1963 to which Byenkya wondered whether theirs was one of the traditional families in Bunyoro kingdom.
“When I look at Bugangayizi, I see it as one of the lost counties that were returned to Bunyoro [kingdom] in a referendum. Isn’t that so?…So typically I’m expecting to see a traditional family that was granted mailo [land] in 1900 and maybe after the return of the lost counties. So, I would expect to see a title that reflects that history. But when I look at your title, it seems to start with your father” said Byenkya.”My lord, I wouldn’t know how my father acquired this property, I was one-year-old in 1963″, said Saaka.

Saaka explained that the family decided to sell the land to government after they failed to gain access to it. Byenkya wondered why there is no evidence of generic reference to people living on the land in question.

“I’m curious from 1979 to date coz I have been looking at some of the documents and people are referred to as squatters, people are referred to as tenants, but I don’t see any names and this seems to be typical even when you look at valuations.
People are generically referred to. I never see a list of people or homesteads for example counted and identified. I never see any form of identification of who these people are. So am wondering whether you yourself knew them?” Byenkya asked Saaka.
“I think the environment in that area, being an absent landlord it was difficult to bring them together and say identify yourself other than trying to engage them. I knew them [tenants] by face, when I went there I knew some of them, others you would only see cows.” Saaka said.
However, Byenkya said the fact that Saaka knew some of them by face, indicates that he was after all not an absent landlord as he claims. He asked him then why he did not take the next step of registering his tenants.
“It would suggest to me that you’re not an absent landlord. If you could go there, you could talk to them, you knew their faces. Why would you not be able to take the next step and record who these people were?” asked Byenkya.
“As I was in that process, that’s when the late Wilson Mulondo advised me and said; ‘I think there’s a Land Fund which could compensate you for that land since you have difficult in utilising it and I took his advice.” answered Saaka.According to the report of the chief government valuer, 70 per cent of Saaka’s land valued at Shs 448 million is encumbered while the remaining 30 per cent valued at Shs 480 is unencumbered.

The report further indicates that the 30% of the land which was free of occupants has 3 hills and a river making it unusable, a claim Saaka confirmed.

Saaka said that he could not answer for the valuer since he does not know the method that was used. Commissioner Mary Oduka Ochan asked Saaka why he had to sell part of the land that could not be used to government.

“Am talking of you, Mr Saaka, morally speaking, as an upright Ugandan who knows that this land is really not good for anything, you can’t do anything much, why did you think you should sell it to government?” asked Ochan.

“To begin with, it doesn’t really qualify for the Land Fund because it was unencumbered. But even if it did, if its not usable and you couldn’t use it or anybody else couldn’t use it, why do you sell it to government to pay much higher than they were paying for land which would have been more useful had those occupants not been there?”, she further asked.
“Is that morally fair, I would expect that you would be a person of integrity. When you talk of government money, that is taxpayers’ money and this is money which the minister of Lands plus the people of the Land Commission have all come here and said they wish there was more money put into the Land Fund. But we’re seeing as if the Land Fund actually has adequate money. The money has been going to wrong places, it has been going to things for which the Land Fund was never established like for example this. You’re saying you’re still owed money but I don’t think you’re owed much money, really!”

Saaka said that if he knew from the start that part of his land didn’t qualify for compensation from the Land Fund, he would have rejected the valuation. He was then asked if he would accept to be given back his land title and compensation only be given for the land that was encumbered. Saaka said that was not what his agreement with government was saying.

Justice Catherine Bamugemereire also queried why the unusable land was valued highly. She said that the chief government valuer will be summoned to explain the irregularity. Bamugemereire wondered what Uganda Land Commission could be doing with this kind of land that cannot be used.

The Commission’s mandate is to probe efficiency of the laws, policies and processes of land registration, acquisition, administration and management. It is also tasked with scrutinizing the work of relevant bodies in the reservation of wetlands, forests, road reserves, and national parks, among other gazetted spaces.

The probe is mandated to investigate and inquire into the role of the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) in administering public land and the Land Fund.

The commissioners are Frederick Ruhindi, Mary Oduka Ochan, Robert Ssebunnya, Joyce Gunde Habaasa, Dr. Rose Nakayi and George Bagonza.

Source: The Observer

PETITIONS

Complaint against unprofessional conduct of the DPC Kiryandongo district for aiding and abetting land grabbing in kiryandongo district.

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The Commandant,

Professional Standards Unit, Uganda Police-Kampala.

Dear Sir/Madam;

RE: COMPLAINT AGAINST UNPROFESSIONAL CONDUCT OF THE DPC KIRYANDONGO DISTRICT FOR AIDING AND ABETTING LAND GRABBING IN NYAMUTENDE KITWARA PARISH KIRYANDONGO DISTRICT AND CARRYING OUT ILLEGAL ARRESTS AND DETENTION OF INNOCENT RESIDENTS/ BIBANJA OWNERS FOR PROTESTING AGAINST THE ILLEGAL EVICTION FROM THEIR LAND.

We act for and behalf of the Lawful and bonafide occupants of Land described as LRV MAS 2 FOLIO 8 BLOCK 8 PLOT 22 (FORMERLY KNOWN AS RANCH 22).

Our Clients are residents of Nyamutende Village, Kitwara Parish in Kiryandongo District where they have lived for more than 30 years and sometime in 2017, they applied for a lease of the said Land to Kiryandongo District Land Board through the Directorate of Land Matters State House.

As they were still awaiting their Application to be processed, they were shocked to establish that the said land had been instead leased to and registered in the names of Isingoma Julius, Mwesige Simon, John Musokota William, Tumusiime Gerald, Wabwire Messener Gabriel, Ocema Richard and Wilson Shikhama, some of whom were not known to the Complainants. A copy of the Search is attached hereto

Our clients protested the above action and appealed to relevant offices, but were shocked to discover that the above persons had gone ahead and sold the same to a one Maseruka Robert.

Aggrieved by these actions, the Complainants appealed to the RDC who advised them to institute proceedings against the said persons, and assigned them a one Mbabazi Samuel to assist them to that effect. The said Mbabazi accordingly filed Civil Suit Noa 46 of 2019 against tne said registered proprietors at Masindi High Court challenging the illegal and fraudulent registration, sale and transfer of the subject land to Maseruka Robert.

While awaiting the progress of the case mentioned hereinabove, the Complainants were surprised to find that the said Mbabazi, instead of assisting them, he went into a consent settling the said suit on their behalf without their knowledge or consent. A copy of the Consent is attached hereto.

Among the terms of the said consent Judgment was that the residents would be compensated without specifying how much and would in return vacate the Land.

As if that was not enough, Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel are going ahead to execute the said Consent Judgment by forcefully evicting the occupants without compensation which has prompted the complainants to challenge the said Consent by applying for its review and setting aside at Masindi High Court which is coming up for hearing on the 29th March 2023. A copy of the Application is attached hereto.

Sensing the imminent threat of eviction, we also filed an application for interim stay of execution of the said consent to avoid rendering their application for review nugatory but unfortunately the same could not be heard on the date it was fixed for hearing (6th February 2023). A copy of the Application is attached hereto

On Thursday last week, three tractors being operated by 6 workers of a one Mbabazi Samuel [the very person who had been entrusted to represent our Clients to secure their Land through Civil Suit No.46 of 2019] encroached close to 50 acres of our Clients’ land and started ploughing it but our Client’s protested and chased them away.

We have however been shocked to receive information from our Clients that on Sunday at Mid night, 3 police patrols invaded the community in the night and arrested community members; Mulenje Jack, Steven Kagyenji, Mulekwa David, Ntambala Geoffrey, Tumukunde Isaac 15 years, Kanunu Innocent, Mukombozi Frank, Kuzara, Rwamunyankole Enock, and took them to Kiryandongo Police Station where they are currently detained.

We strongly protest the illegal arrests and detention of our Clients as this is a carefully orchestrated land grabbing scheme by Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel who are  receiving support from the DPC Kiryandongo.

The purpose of this Letter therefore is to request your good office to investigate the misconduct, abuse of office and unprofessionalism of the said DPC Kiryandongo District and all his involvement in the land grabbing schemes on land formerly known as Ranch 22.

Looking forward to your urgent intervention,

C.C The Head Police Land Protection Unit Police Head Quarters Naguru

CC The RDC Kiryandongo District

CC The Chairman LCVKityadongo District

CC The Regional Police CommanderAlbertine Region

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WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES

The Executive Director of Witness Radio Uganda talks about the role played by Witness Radio in protecting communities affected by large-scale agribusinesses in Kiryandongo district in an interview with the ILC.

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WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES

Witness Radio Uganda wins the best CSO land rights defenders award at the National Land Forum Awards.

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By Witness Radio Team

Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog, Witness Radio has been awarded the best CSO land rights defender award 2022 in the recently concluded National Land Forum Awards held last week at Mestil hotel in Kampala.

Witness Radio’s executive Director, Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala attributed the award to the community land and environmental rights defenders who stand up against the intimidation and different forms of harassment from land grabbers (economically powerful and politically connected companies and individual investors).

“This is an award for defenders at a community level. They work in very deadly environments filled with harassment, torture, death threats, arrest, trumped-up charges, and kidnaps among others to advocate for community land and environment rights. This is happening at a spate where criminalization and silencing of  community land rights defenders are at increase.” Jeff added.

The award has come at a time when hundreds of Ugandans in different parts of the country are accessing services provided by the organization ranging from legal service provisions, non-judicial mechanism engagements, empowerment to help them understand their rights, and using the same knowledge to use the same skills to push back against illegal and forced evictions

The chairman of the organizing committee of the second National Land Forum, Mr. Jimmy Ochom noted some progress on legislation in Uganda’s land Governance. He cited growing inequalities on land where the poor are more vulnerable.

During awards, the state minister for housing, Hon persis Namuganza revealed that the government approved the plan for 2018-2040 that maps the land use in the country.

According to the minister, the government had identified land for settlement, game reserves, wildlife, arable land for farming, and water bodies among others in the plan which she said was passed a few weeks ago.

The event was organized by Oxfam and partners and provided a platform for discussions by the different actors in the land sector on issues around land governance, including land rights, land administration, and land governance for improved collaboration, cooperation between the actors, and improved land service delivery for Ugandans under a theme “Taking stock of the National Land Policy in addressing Land inequality in addressing Land inequality in Uganda.”

Other categories of awards that were won by different organizations and individuals including Mr. Eddie Nsamba-Gayiiya for his contribution to research on land rights, Justice Centers Uganda for Promoting Access to Land Justice, and Mr. Henry Harrison Irumba for Championing Legal Reforms among others.

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