The Wakiso district staff surveyor, Dr. Joseph Batume was Monday morning interrogated by the ongoing commission of inquiry into land to explain how he has generated a vast portfolio of property with the limited income he earns.
He was accused of using his office to engage in syndicated give-aways of government land in forests, wetlands and cemeteries in Wakiso district.
Batume, 37 who has been the district surveyor for 12 years, allegedly approved selling off of up to 600 acres of land in Nonve central forest reserve to property mogul Hajj Haruna Semakula and Wakiso RDC Ian Kyeyune.
Tasked to explain why this occurred under his watch, Batume said that he was ignorant that the land in question was situated in a forest.
He claimed that the cadastral maps at his disposal were outdated and didn’t capture physical features such as wetlands and forests.
However, according to information before the probe committee, in January 2014, the cartographer for Entebbe wrote to Batume notifying him on a forest reserve (Nonve) and seeking his advice on how to proceed. But he had earlier denied.
“You ignored professional advice, raising a red flag about the forest reserve but you went ahead to survey it. Isn’t it true that you had a unique relationship with Haruna Semakula and Ian Kyeyune and gave 360 hectares of a forest to them?” asked the commission Chairperson, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire.
A furious Bamugemereire further told Batume; “You have been a menace to Wakiso. Wakiso has the biggest number of wetlands but they have disappeared under your time. Why does this country still need you amid hazards of climate change?”
Batume insisted that his office lacked the maps, adding that all titles previously issued within protected areas were cancelled though to date, some individuals are still in court claiming ownership.
“Generally, the maps don’t have information on forest reserves because they are not updated. It is appalling that you check on the digitized maps and find maps that were constructed in 1990 which were scanned,” Batume said.
The assets that Batume has accumulated with his Shs700,000 monthly salary also prompted further questioning from the commission.
He owns among others; Holly Fam Hotel in Nansana whose capacity is 31 bedrooms valued at close to Shs1bn, a commercial building in Wakiso Town Council, a family house in Kira municipality measuring 47 decimals (half an acre), 11 acres of farm land in Kona and another plot of land in Mulawa, Kira municipality measuring 11 decimals.
All this property is situated in Wakiso district where he has works which made Commissioners question Batume as to whether he didn’t see a conflict of interest.
“I see an element of conflict of interest,” he said.
Justice Bamugemereire ordered Batume to provide the commission with a list of all his assets.
Due to its close proximity to Kampala city and the high demand for land, Wakiso district has registered the highest number of land fraud incidents including private ownership of land within wetlands and forest reserves.
Weeks ago, John Giribo, the Sector Manager with National Forestry Authority (NFA) told the same commission that 60% of the 738 hectares that make up Nonve forest reserve is possessed by private individuals.