State House is the latest government institution to be cited in land grabbing by the ongoing commission of inquiry into land mismanagement for its involvement in displacing thousands of people from their land in Nakaseke district.
Susan Abo, the Private Secretary for the President on Land Matters at State House was on Wednesday put on the spot to explain why she overstepped her powers and participated in fraudulent transactions that resulted into intimidation and displacement of locals.
Abo, 33, is accused by residents of Nabiika village for colluding with SPA Financial Services a private firm to give away over 400 acres of land that these residents have held customarily for decades.
Consequently, up to 300 households have been left homeless. SPA is co-owned by two brothers Hans Rugari and Chris Rugari and they had bought land from Geoffrey Karugira, a businessman and proprietor of Route 256 a Kololo based bar.
The State House official told the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire led commission on Wednesday that her involvement in the land dispute had been prompted by reports in the media that President’s son-in-law, Edwin Karugire had bought land in Nakaseke and evicted people.
“We had heard alarming statements on TV by Hon. Lutamaguzi (MP Nakaseke South) that people were being chased and property destroyed by the first family,” Abo, 33, said in her testimony.
As a result, visited the locus in Nakaseke on the directive of the President where she met with affected people, district and local leaders to establish the facts and also sensitize the locals about issues regarding land.
However, she proceeded to ask those affected to register their claims which Ebert Byenkya, lead counsel to the commission said had not been part of her assignment.
“You had already established that the first family wasn’t involved. Why did it become important for you to determine whether these residents were paying ground rent or not? Why were you sidetracking and delving into matters that were not your business?” Byenkya asked Abo.
She asserted that; “Our role is to sensitize people about the law and teach them to do the right thing. My role isn’t to leave things hanging. When I went to the ground, I found that people were confused about whether this land belonged to any particular landlord between SPA and the Kabaka.”
Abo got deeply entangled in the conflict when she and the Nabiika LC3 Chairman John Mugerwa over saw agreements between SPA and unknown people who voluntarily transferred their claims to the company.
As part of the agreement, SPA offered Shs300,000 to each one of the ‘bibanja owners’ as a token of good faith to vacate.
These deals brokered between Mugerwa and Abo at State House had sent mixed feelings and raised suspicion among the bona fide occupants of the land back in Nabiika.
In their view, State House had sided with SPA an investor to fleece them of their land by compensating them Ush 300,000 for land whose value was Shs2m (per acre) on the market.
She took blame for; not investigating the authenticity of those compensated failure to get a land valuer’s report and being witness to a process that saw vulnerable Ugandans cheated by a wealthy firm.
Surprisingly, since March when the President assigned Susan Abo to investigate claims by Hon. Lutamaguzi, to date, she hasn’t briefed him about her findings despite the security crisis and tension it has caused in Nabiika.
“Do you realize how much your meddling is messing up people’s lives? Is it the business of State House to get into private contractual arrangements between people?” counsel Byenkya interrogated Abo who said she didn’t know that those compensated were ghost occupants.
In response, Abo stated to the commission; “If what I did by witnessing these parties negotiate caused problems, I take the blame and apologize,” admitting that her actions put State House in disrepute.
“I have learnt a lesson of doing thorough investigations if I am going to take a step in recommending any activity to be done between parties,” she added.