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‘Forest encroachers’ challenge mandate of Bamugemereire’s land commission

COURT | Even before the commission of land inquiry currently investigating land matters in the country finalises its work, its powers is being challenged in the Constitutional Court by three individuals who feel it’s has exceeded its mandate.

Eria Mubiru, Vivian Keza and Peninah Busingye Kabingani, who have filed the petition, are individuals who obtained a judgment from High Court judge Godfrey Namundi ordering that about one square mile that is part of Kajjansi central forest reserve belonged to them simply because they have land titles over the land.

Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, who heads the commission, at a news conference in October, said Namundi’s judgment was an example of “judges conspiring with land grabbers to worsen the land problem in the country.”

Now the trio have chosen to strike back through a constitutional petition, dragging in Attorney General and National Forestry Authority (NFA) as respondents, contending that the commission’s move to investigate, issue summons and conduct public hearings into their land matters well knowing that they are before the High Court is inconsistent with key tenets of the Constitution.

The trio cited Articles 2, 20, 28, 42, 44, 79, 126 and 128.

The genesis of their troubles with the commission started on January 11, when Bamugemereire’s team stormed their property questioned their workers as they went on with their routine work at the site.

Their workers, they say, notified and handed a court order to the commissioners which showed that they are legally working on the land. U

pon handing over the said court order, they claim that the commissioners disregarded it and instead arrested the workers and, consequently, drove them to the commission’s headquarters in Kampala.

They say that commission detained the workers until they were released on bond.

Upon securing their workers’ release, the commission issued summons to Mubiru at about 9pm requiring him to appear before the commission at 9:30am the following morning of January 12, the petitioner allege.

Despite the commission receiving information about Mubiru’s inability to appear on January 12, in the morning it issued a warrant for his arrest.

The commission was still informed of Mubiru’s inability to attend proceedings on grounds that he had both kidney and liver complications but still the commission issued summons requiring him to appear on January 18, without fail.

Through Alaka and Company Advocates, the individuals say the actions and methods of the the land inquiry are outside its terms of reference and inconsistent with and in contravention of the Constitution.

They say Bamugemereire’s commissioners act as investigators and adjudicators at the same time.

“The actions of the commission of inquiry in continuing to investigate a land dispute between your petitioners and NFA in which the judgment was made and its continued pursuance of further adjudication upon the same land dispute upon which it had unilaterally issued orders of status quo as against court orders amounts to seizing and usurping judicial functions and also in contravention of the petitioners’ right to own property,” the petition reads in party.

They also say the Justice Bamugemereire‘s October news briefing in which she attacked and castigated Justice Namundi for having ruled in their favour is “a menacing interference with the independence of the Judiciary and inconsistent with and in contravention of the Constitution.

”In the presser, Bamugemereire, who is a Court of Appeal judge, but now on leave, executing President Museveni’s assignment, called for severe action against what she termed as “a racket of mafias in the country’s judicial system.”

“That the above actions of the commission of inquiry appointed by and answerable to the executive arm of government, which actions are interfering and contradicting with the duties and mandate of the judicial arm of government, is breach of the doctrine of separation of powers and inconsistent with and in contravention of the Constitution,“ the petition goes on.

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