The Commission of Inquiry investigating land fraud has discovered that the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) failed to implement directives issued by Cabinet two years ago in regard to repossession of a disputed public property in Jinja.
The property on Plot 60 – 62 Aldina Visiram Road in Jinja Municipality was leased out to ULC in 1963 for 99 years but in 2011 was leased to Birus Property Limited belonging to businessman Simpson Birungi.
A report by the IGG report in 2013 had raised red flags over the Birungi’s claims stating that he had fraudulently acquired the property. The same report recommended that the 5-year lease to Birus be cancelled but none of this was implemented.
According to an extract of Cabinet minutes from a meeting held in 2015 that is before the Bamugemereire commission, minute 2 (ii) directed that government through ULC takes possession of the property from Birus Property Ltd.
In addition, cabinet in minute 2 (iv) directed that government officials whose actions aided; the fraudulent acquisition of the Jinja property, its subsequent demolition in January 2015 and the eviction of the bonafide occupants be investigated and punished.
The demolition saw up to 10 individuals who have operated small scale enterprises in the same building over the years displaced.
Among those to be investigated was; Paul Idude (Principal Land Officer at ULC), Emmanuel Olawuna (Under Secretary in Ministry of Lands), the late AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi and Senior Police officers; ACP Julius Twinomujuni (Commandant Land Protection Unit), SP Edgar Nyabongo (RPC Kira Region), SP Apollo Kateba (DPC Jinja) and ASP Felix Mugizi (O.C Station Jinja).
Another executive decision reached was for government to verify and recognize bona fide tenants on the said property, provide legal aid for them to pursue compensation from Birus Property Ltd for the losses they incurred during the eviction.
All these directives were in meant to be immediate actions but to the commission of inquiry’s surprise, not one of them has been taken today, except a suspension of the three named police officers which was only triggered by the same inquiry a week ago.
While appearing before the commission of inquiry on Wednesday, the Uganda Land Commission Chairman, Baguma Isoke shockingly denied knowledge of these directives claiming no competent authority has ordered ULC to act.
“We seem to have a situation where Cabinet decisions can be ignored and subverted, not pursued by failing to communicate. A situation that was meant to be remedied then still persists today,” Ebert Byenkya asked Isoke.
However, in his response Isoke stated: “The Cabinet decisions have never reached us, neither did the report by the IGG. Cabinet hasn’t indicated which investigative body should probe these officials. The Lands Minister would have communicated Cabinet decisions but he didn’t.”
The Commission was concerned to also learn that the file containing lease documents for Birus Property Ltd including the lease application, inspection report, survey report, lease agreement and tax payment receipts has since gone missing from Uganda Land Commission.
The probe committee faulted ULC for poor management of information of high value and negligence that resulted into loss of public property.
“This file was made to disappear. Somebody must have walked into the registry and taken without recording these movements. Probably the interested parties,” Isoke told the commission.
It remains unclear why for two years, neither ULC, Police nor the Ministry of Land has followed through the 2015 executive orders to ensure that action is taken to repossess the Jinja property.
It is only until the affected bonafide tenants of the Aldina Rd building lodged a complaint to the ongoing inquiry that the Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura ordered for the 4 officers to be investigated.
Isoke said he was willing to commence an investigation at ULC within two weeks to effect the decisions of Cabinet as long as the responsible organs authorize the directive.