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Surveyors Say Regulatory, Technical Loopholes Aiding Land Fraud

The President of the Institution of Surveyors of Uganda, Richard Masereje (R) and Ronald Sengendo (L), the Chairman of Land Surveyors in Uganda appear before the land probe commission on Tuesday

The body that brings together professional surveyors in Uganda wants government to revise the laws regulating the profession to ensure compliance in standards and quality work.

The President of the Institution of Surveyors of Uganda, stuff Richard Masereje and Ronald Sengendo the Chairman of Land Surveyors in Uganda on Tuesday revealed to the commission investigating land fraud that the majority of surveyors especially those working in government lack the required competencies which has resulted into erroneous conduct.

According to Masereje, buy Uganda has produced some 1,000 graduates in the field of surveying but only 10% of these are registered with the Institution of Surveyors making it difficult to crack the whip on quacks. The country currently has a mere 109 registered surveyors in practice.

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“If we are to define quack surveyors then we might have to start with those working in government since it is the biggest employer. Government only asks for a Degree, it doesn’t care whether a surveyor is registered,” he told the commission.

Masereje went on to say; “Some of these people have worked with entities like UNRA for as long as eight years but haven’t even applied to be graduate members of the professional body. As long as they are getting their salaries, they have nothing compelling them to register with us.”

He appealed for a legal framework that will reinforce the density of professional surveyors in Uganda which currently stands at a low ratio of 1.7 surveyors to 1 million people. “The law should demand that for one to be employed in government or any other agency, they must be registered.”

In its previous interface with witnesses, the probe committee has discovered that some of the protected areas like lakes, forests and wetlands have been surveyed and issued private land titles. The probe has been trying to establish what influences surveyors to plot GPS coordinates in such gazetted areas.

While each district is supposed to have a resident land surveyor, Masereje said that the bulk of them too are not registered surveyors yet they have a supervisory role.

Ebert Byenkya, the Lead Counsel to the comission made a query on the affordability of surveying services which is partly the reason why a significant chunk of land remains unsurveyed in Uganda.

“I agree that the costs charged by surveyors are high. There’s no standard cost because the equipment we use is expensive in addition to the taxes,” Sengendo responded.

He said that a set of the Global Position System used in the field surveys costs between Ush 80m to Ush 100m.

Sengendo also attributed the costly services to the absence of the national geodetic system (reference points) which are critical in surveying. There were over 5,000 reference points (pillar like demarcations) across Uganda by 1970 until they were vandalized by people who believed they contained mercury.

“Although the data still exists, one would again need to carry out a survey to establish these points. We  have often engaged government to reestablish these points but the response we get is that there are no resources. The process would require approximately USD 4m,” Sengendo said.

Errors in the Land Information System

Masereje told the commission that the introduction of the Land Information System (LIS) created as much problems as it solved. He revealed that in several instances, there have been glaring variations in the coordinates captured in the system and those reflected on the land titles.

“There’s a case near the border where the land is in Uganda and the coordinates were found in Tanzania. Because there are no reference points, surveyors use handheld GPS machines but their margin of error is high,” he said.

“Consequently, land starts shifting from Mbarara and the effects in plot measurements keep multiplying and maybe that’s why we end up having land in lakes.”

Others have argued that, due to the worn out documents at the Entebbe land archives facility, land officers found it difficult to scan some of the coordinates and ended up entering wrong figures in the system. Last week, while appearing before the same commission, city lawyer Peter Muliira also testified that land officials have taken advantage of the LIS to deliberately compromise information therein with the intention of stealing people’s land.

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