When she returns to parliament soon with the revised compulsory land acquisition bill, Betty Amongi, the Lands, Housing and Urban Development minister, hopes to win over majority of disaffected NRM and opposition MPs who fought the hugely controversial one the last time.
The revised amendment to Article 26 of the Constitution seeks to empower government to compulsorily take possession of private land without prior compensation to the owners. But Justice Catherine Bamugemereire insists the government-pushed amendment meant to put an end to the stalling of public infrastructural projects due to land acquisition squabbles may not help much without the amendment of the 1965 Land Acquisition Act.
The chairperson of the judicial commission of inquiry into land matters says the 1965 Land Acquisition Act is an old-modeled, old-fashioned law, which is completely inapplicable in the current times.
The tough-talking justice was among guests at the launch of a new report titled; Situational Analysis on Compulsory Land Acquisition Management in Uganda, on April 17 at Sheraton hotel, Kampala.
The report was compiled by Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET) in partnership with Oxfam, ActionAid and Pelum Association. The study assessed the available operational legal and policy frameworks governing compulsory land acquisitions.
The assessment concluded that Uganda has a fair domestic legal framework and other subsidiary legislations such as the Water Act, which guarantee the right to property.
However, despite having various laws that provide for procedural rights such as the right to be heard, to appeal and to prompt, prior and fair compensation before the state compulsorily takes possession of privately owned land, the report states, those rights are undermined by the archaic 1965 land law.
“The process laid down in the Land Acquisition Act in particular Sections 2, 6 and 14 have been criticized as redundant, outdated and lengthy yet the same procedures could be reduced further without necessarily putting the rights of project-affected persons in harm’s way,” the report partly reads.
The report also points out the lack of a clear policy on evaluation and compensation during compulsory acquisition of land.
“Until June 2018 when the ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development launched guidelines for compensation assessment under land acquisition, the chief government valuer was using scattered pieces of provisions in different laws to undertake valuation and compensation advisory services to the government,” the report states.
Even when the guidelines are in place, there are questions about whether the compensation process is transparent and fair. There are, for instance, instances where the guidelines provide for reliance on valuations by district land boards, which lack the financial and technical capacity to undertake such valuations.
Justice Bamugemereire called for the amendment of the Land Acquisition Act (1965) to comprehensively address key issues in land ownership. She suggests the law must define the eminent domain of who has powers to acquire land compulsorily, and also explain what public interest is, to avoid conflict when land is compulsorily acquired.
“Article 237 of the Constitution vests land in the citizens but this land has overlapping rights and has no eminent domain that owns the sovereign title. This should be clarified in the upcoming constitutional amendments,” Bamugemereire said.
Bamugemereire’s call was informed by a recommendation in the report for the amendment of the Land Acquisition Act (1965) largely to align it with the Constitution.
“The amendment of the Land Acquisition Act should aim at prescribing for prompt, adequate and fair compensation prior to compulsory acquisition [of land] by government,” the report reads.
The report also recommends to parliament for a comprehensive legislative reform of Articles 26(2)(a) and 237(2)(a) of the Constitution to define key terms such as public interest, public use, public order, public safety, timely, adequate, fair and prompt that justify compulsory land acquisition.
Minister Amongi is set to retable a bill to amend Article 26 of the Constitution, which when passed will allow government to compulsorily take private land to implement public interest projects.
The bill, which was tabled in parliament in 2017 but was shelved due to fierce opposition from MPs, seeks to empower government or a local government to take possession of the property upon depositing the compensation fees awarded for the property with court, pending determination by the same court of the disputed compensation amount.
Last month Amongi told journalists in Kampala that government is ready to return to parliament with an edited version of the bill.