By Doris Atwijukire
Recently, the media run a story entitled residents decry Kampala-Entebbe Expressway compensation delays.
According to the story, Mr. Pius Mugalasi, one of the affected people is still demanding more than Shs17b for his 10 acres of land lost in January, 2013, a compensation payment form signed in February, 2015 upon which he handed over his land titles to Uganda National Road Authority (UNRA).
This means that for two years now, Mugalasi ceased being the owner of that land but has never been compensated.
This story and many more that have been reported are a clear evidence of the suffering most people face in the name of government infrastructure development.
The very reason why most Ugandans particularly MPs, religious leaders, CSOs, cultural leaders and academicians have all come up to oppose the move by government to Amend Article 26 of the constitution.
Many argue that it is uncalled for and will not address the land acquisition question.
Majority Ugandans are appalled at the apparent lack of interest by the government in enforcing the existing land laws which provide for property rights protection but instead propose to amend Article 26 of the constitution, the only provision that entrenches property rights and economic interest.
Remember, property in Article 26 is not just land but entire property including real property.
Further in the story, UNRA explains that the Shs17.4b valued and approved by the chief government valuer as compensation for Mugalasi, was very expensive.
This leaves one wondering where UNRA gets the mandate not to accept the government’s approved valuation of people’s land.
UNRA should respect what the chief government valuer has valued and considered as fair.
It’s the responsibility of the Chief Government Valuer to value property for compensation by government and UNRA as an acquiring authority is obligated to comply to prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation, prior to taking possession.
As of now, Article 26 of the constitution, together with other enabling laws including the Land Act and the Land Acquisition Act, clearly provide for the protection of right to property and how such property can only be taken away by government/ local government for national development after payment of prompt, fair and adequate compensation.
However, government urges that the current arrangement, where it is obligated to pay fair and adequate compensation before effecting compulsory acquisition, has caused long delays in the implementation of national development projects resulting from compensation disputes.
The proposed amendment empowers government to acquire property before compensation occurs pending the determination by the court of the compensation payable in an event that the parities are unable to agree on the fair and adequate compensation payable.
Much as the principle of prompt, fair and adequate compensation is enshrined in the Constitution, this has not been the case with most government projects including the Kampala-Entebbe expressway.
The land acquisition for projects such as the oil refinery project in Hoima, Karuma hydro power project, Mukono-Katosi road among others have been conducted in unconstitutional manner.
This has left in their trail so many unresolved problems.
Among them are ‘disgruntled project affected’ people due to the delayed, unfair and inadequate compensation, coercing of some people into signing documents of receipt of payment prior to compensation, government possession of the acquired land prior to compensation among others.
These problems coupled with reported corruption and bribery allegations and improper bidding processes have wrecked the projects and led to the loss of livelihood for the affected people which all must be addressed.
The introduction of Article 26 in the 1995 constitution was meant to address the land acquisition related challenges.
The accepted general principle of compensation is that the owner who is compelled to sell his land has the right to be put, in the same position as if his land had not been taken from him. Unfortunately, the same that will be washed away by if the Article 26 is amendment.
Section 20 of the Land Acquisition Act provides that the Minister of Lands, by statutory instrument shall make regulations for the assessment and payment of compensation to give full effect to the provisions and purposes of the Act.
These regulations have never been made since 1965, and yet outrageous assessments are made by the Districts Land Boards and the Chief Government Valuer whom the affected people usually accuse for undervaluing the property and land.
Yet, even those who accept and consent take years without being compensated by government and investors.
Therefore, allowing government to acquire property before compensation will legalize evictions and cause more injustices that citizens continue to suffer as a result of poor implementation of the laws.
The amendment will effect what has always been done illegally.This is not only a violation of the constitutional rights of Ugandans but also the biggest betrayal by government to her citizens that it is meant to protect.
The protection of citizen rights in property is so fundamental to the integrity of the country, that they should not be neglected for the development.
As a country we have clear laws in place that if effectively implemented government would not face challenges with land acquisition as it claims.
There is nothing wrong with the government acquiring land since there is constitutional authority for compulsory acquisition of land.
The problem lies with the mechanisms of such compulsory acquisition.
These mechanisms and procedures must strictly confirm to the requirements of the constitution.
Doris Atwijukire is the Programmes Officer at Civic Response on Environment and Development