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CSOs rally legislators to stand their ground against plans to amend land laws

LAND | Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have challenged legislators to stand up to be counted on a matter that touches the hearts of all citizens ahead of the second and third reading of the Land Amendment Bill on Tuesday.

“We can play with all laws in Uganda but the one that makes our land vulnerable to grabbing is the worst thing that could ever happen to this country,” CSOs said in a joint rallying call to Ugandans and legislators in particular to resist the amendment.

The Bill, tabled by Deputy Attorney General Mwesigye Rukutana on July 13, 2017 seeks to amend Article 26 of the Constitution (right to property) and remove the requirement for prior compensation during compulsory land acquisition in case the land owner disputes the compensation awarded by government.

The proposed law has seen stiff resistance from a large section of MPs, including those from the ruling NRM party, forcing President Museveni to embark on a nationwide radio campaign to preach the gospel in support of the compulsory land acquisition.

In the parliamentary procedures, the second reading is at committee stage while the third is for adoption of the report of the committee. With the two readings slated for Tuesday afternoon, it essentially means that by close of business today, this amendment could easily become law in Uganda.

However, Benson Ekwe, the director Public Affairs Centre (PAC), a civil society organisation, has asked MPs to stand against it, saying the intention of government to amend particularly article defies the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grants people voice and power over their property.

“I hope MPs will stand with the people this time because the government in power is weakening the Constitution to favour itself and a few people against the masses,” Ekwe said.

The rights activist said that even before the bill is passed into law, thousands of Ugandans have been reduced to squatters in various parts of the country noting that granting government full control over land will see those in power grabbing it at their own wish in the name of investment and infrastructure.

MPs oppose amendment

Manjiya County MP John Baptist Nambeshe said this is the time for MPs to defend “the only property left of their people.”

“This is not time for colours, it’s time to save our land, the only survival our people have remained with,” Nambeshe told Crime24.

Lands minister Betty Amongi last year stood in support of the amendment, saying compulsory acquisition is the power of government to acquire private rights in land for a public purpose, without the willing consent of its owner or occupant.

In her July 2017 statement, Amongi said the current amendment is not for compulsory acquisition but to address the following scenarios; where majority of land owners have accepted the value of the land and a few have rejected it as well as avoid a stalemate where Government cannot proceed with the infrastructure projects because one or two project affected persons have rejected the compensation value and to avoid expenses being incurred by Government like payments of penalties on idle equipment and interest on borrowed loans among others.

Meanwhile, the Legal and Parliamentary Committee has rejected the proposed amendment with committee chair Jacob Oboth-Oboth saying the proposals are “redundant and misplaced.”

The committee noted that the provisions of content of the bill are redundant since there are similar legal measures in the Land Acquisition Act that the government can use as a measure to overcome the reported challenge of delay in public works.

President Museveni, the architect behind the controversial bill, has always bemoaned delays in projects, saying many infrastructure development plans are stayed by commoners who refuse to pass over their land to government in exchange for expropriation.

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