Officials from the Tooro kingdom have accused the central government for facilitating land grabbing resulting from the delayed return of kingdom properties, purchase among them over 110 square miles of land.
A delegation from the kingdom led by the Prime Minister Bernard Tungwako Ateenyi on Tuesday expressed their frustration before the ongoing commission of inquiry into land fraud saying government has deliberately ignored the kingdom’s ‘rightful’ claims on land in districts of Kamwenge, remedy Bundibugyo and Kasese that was previously owned by Tooro.
They claim that officials in district land boards have illegally transferred land titles to their names and also connived with investors to give it away. In the case of land currently occupied by government, kingdom representatives said rent has not been paid nor has government secured leases as should be the case.
“The biggest land grabber in Tooro is government together with its highly placed officials. We have complained that local governments are grabbing kingdom land but central government has failed to prevail over them,” the Prime Minister said.
Some of the land the kingdom claims includes the King’s palace in Kamwenge which is now occupied by the prisons department, the Itaara housing estate and Mucwa yard both occupied by Kabalore district local government and Muhoti barracks which are occupied by UPDF. The Katojo, Butiiti, Kibito and Kyegegwa prisons are also said to have been previously owned by Tooro.
“We are beginning to think that there’s a clandestine motive against Tooro because the law (The 1993 Restitution of Assets Act) hasn’t treated us the same way it treated other kingdoms like Buganda. Ours was a raw deal,” Tungwako told the commission.
Out of the total land that was traditionally under Tooro adding up to 143.65 square miles, government has so far returned 33.98 square miles (with 17 title deeds) to the kingdom. The majority portion of the land measuring to 93.91 square miles (with 110 titles) however is still unreturned.
There is an additional 16.76 square miles of unregistered customary land that was mainly occupied by Gombololas and Ssaza headquarters, forests and game reserves. But Tooro maintains that there’s a substantial acreage of land that is still under government which was unsurveyed and thus its actual are remains unknown.
The Tooro Kingdom Land Board Chairman, Tibwezire said; “Initially, Tooro covered the current districts of Kasese, Bundibugyo, Kamwenge, Kabalore, Kyenjojo and Ntoroko.
But when the new districts were created, it made it difficult for the kingdom to lay claim on properties which were owned there.
The Prime Minister said the institution has no arm to force government out of the properties except the legal redress. “We have also taken a petition of all our properties anf requests for compensation to the Attorney General. Failure to comply, we shall go to courts of law.”
He promised to avail to the commission documents containing evidence of government officials involved in land theft.
In Kamwenge, the two officials said, land occupied by Local Council (L.C) establishments from L.C I to L.C 5 all belonged to Tooro but at the time when kingdoms were abolished, these pieces of land hadn’t been titled.
The Chairman of the Tooro Land Board says that it is now difficult to secure these titles since the same local leaders mandated to approve land titles have interest in grabbing the land.
“Since some other cultural institutions like Obudingiya bw’Abamba have been created, we have demanded for compensation from government but in vain. Government can’t just wish us off yet we are the registered proprietors,” he said.
They also criticized local politicians for creating animosity among occupants of Tooro land towards the cultural institutions which has resulted into defiance to pay rent (busulu). He noted that this is likely to hinder development of the kingdom as individuals fear to develop their property for fear of future evictions.
In their recommendations to the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire led probe commission, Tooro kingdom has asked for a complete and unconditional return of all kingdom properties, compensation of rent arrears and timber illegally extracted from Tooro’s forests.
The kingdom further demands the cancellation of all transactions carried out on Tooro’s property after 1993 and fast tracking of land registration.
Asked about claims by bibanja owners that the Tooro Royal family has been behind evictions of occupants of kingdom land, Tungwako refuted this, blaming it on misconceptions between kingdom land and land owned privately by members of the royal family.