By: Dennis Enap
The Land Acquisition Act Cap 226 commenced on the 2nd day of July, 1965 during the leadership of Dr. Apollo Milton Obote under the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC). It was aimed at enabling the Central Government to acquire land for purposes as public use, in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality and public health. It is against that background that the UPC acquired private property to build structures in education, health and infrastructural sectors of the country that to this date still stand.
The Land Acquisition Act, 1965 was passed by the UPC Government having a constitutional safeguard, which provided for prompt payment of adequate compensation of the land owners as envisaged in the 1962 Independence Constitution, 1966 Interim Constitution and the 1967 Republican Constitution.
For particular reference, Article 22 of the 1962 Constitution provided for the protection of the right to own property by Ugandans, thereby outlawing any compulsory possession of the same land by any person or government agency without compensation. This provision was reproduced in the 1966 Interim Constitution and in Article 13 of the 1967 Republican Constitution.
It is against the above background that the National Resistance Movement Government under President Yoweri Museveni introduced the principle of prior payment of compensation in circumstances where a person is denied ownership of his or her land. This was and is provided for under Article 26 of the 1995 Constitution. With particular emphasis, Article 26 mandates the prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation, prior to the taking of possession or acquisition of property. This principle has been the guiding fundamental principle around ownership of property in Uganda since the formation of the nation state Uganda.
Article 26 of the Constitution gave rise to a court case Irumba Asumani and Peter Magelah versus Attorney General and UNRA, Constitutional Petition No. 40 of 2013, in which the petitioners sought the Constitutional Court’s interpretation of the validity of section 7 of the Land Acquisition Act was taken advantage of by the Uganda National Roads Authority and Government to acquire private land in Hoima District belonging to the petitioners without prior prompt compensation.
The Constitutional Court rightly outlawed the compulsory acquisition of property without prior prompt compensation, a decision that was upheld rightly still by the Supreme Court, which is the up-most Court of redress in Uganda.
It is this court decision that the Central Government under the National Resistance Movement, through the minister of lands, Hon. Betty Amongi (who is a member of parliament on the UPC platform) wants to overturn through an amendment of Article 26 of the 1995 Constitution so that Government is given unlimited power to acquire land or property. Other political commentators are looking at the proposed amendment as an extended motive to grab more land under the guise of public interest. This fear can be attributed to the grabbing of police land in Naguru-Kampala and many other places across the country.
More unfortunately, Hon. Jimmy Akena who doubles as UPC President and Member of Parliament of Lira Municipality has been heard on several media platforms to support the said unpopular amendment of the Constitution, therein regurgitating the same reason advanced by the Central Government as to the effect of defeating “speculators”.
If it were true that the intended amendment sets to cure exorbitant amounts set by spectators in light of compensation claims, why shouldn’t Government consider streamlining the office of the Chief Government Valuer and any other that handles negotiations with the landowners? The processes leading to acquisition can be also streamlined so that we have quick inter party negotiations guided by the government valuer, documentation of the awards and prompt payment of the property owners. This can be borrowed from how President Obote and the UPC were able to compensate property owners during the 1960s when government then set out to establish public interest projects across the country as the 24 government rural hospitals, extension of the railway lines to the different parts of the country and expansion of government aided schools and tertiary institutions.
Otherwise, should the current proposed amendment be effected, then we shall have increased cases of destitution and homelessness due to loss of bargaining power over property and where the property owner and government fail to agree, there will be cases of failure to access money that will be deposited with court as it is a very lengthy and expensive process to withdraw such money and bribes to effect the same will have to be dispensed with by the claimants. This is against the UPC ideals especially of fighting against poverty.
I strongly believe that President Obote under the same circumstances would have distanced himself and the UPC from the said amendment since prior to his return to Uganda from Kenya in 1956, he took advantage the unpopular attempts by the British Colonial Government then to forcefully change the tenure of land in Lango sub region and all other related sub regions from communal to private ownership. This was perceived as one of the many attempts by the colonialists to grab land of Ugandan communities that was deemed to be vacant and not owned. It is against this motion by the colonial government that Dr. Obote became prominent and was elected to the Legislative Council as representative of Lango East Constituency since he believed in the communal ownership of land by his tribesmen.
In the premises, my parents Hon. Betty Amongi and Hon. Jimmy Akena that I love so much should seek the UPC and Milton Obote solution to the proposed amendment. Otherwise, UPC prosterity will adjudge both harshly.
(The writer is a legal aide to Hon. Jimmy Akena and legal practitioner.)