Bamugemereire wants Land Acquisition Act amended

The Chairperson of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into land matters Justice Catherine Bamugemereire has called for the amendment of the Land Acquisition Act (1965) to comprehensively address key issues in land ownership.

Officiating at the launch of a report title, “Situational analysis on Compulsory Land Acquisition Management in Uganda” conducted by Legal Aid Service Providers’ Network (LASPNET) in partnership with Action Aid, Oxfam and Pelum Uganda, Bamugemereire said that the 64-year-old law does not clearly define the eminent who has powers to acquire land compulsorily.

“Basically we have a very out modeled law, old fashioned… it is completely not applicable to our current times,” said Bamugemereire

Among the improvements she suggests is the need for the law to explain what public interest is, to avoid conflict when land is compulsorily acquired.

The report Bamugemereire launched describes the Land Acquisition Act (1965) as archaic and not in tandem with the contemporary land governance requirements besides giving no room to a person to contest the process of acquisition and justification of the proposed government project.

“Article 237 of the Constitution vests land in the citizens but this land has overlapping rights and has no eminent domain that owns the sovereign title. This should be clarified in the upcoming constitutional amendments,” Bamugemereire said.

Government has drafted a bill to amend Article 26 of the Constitution which when passed will allow government to compulsorily take over private land for purposes of implementing public interest projects.

According to the bill which was tabled in Parliament in 2017, the bill will empower government or a local government to take possession of the property upon depositing the compensation awarded for the property with court, pending determination by the court of the disputed compensation amount.

MPs were indifferent towards the bill, forcing the government to halt the process of its enactment but last month, Lands, Housing and Urban Development minister Betty Amongi told journalists in Kampala that the government is ready to return to Parliament with an edited version of the bill.

The Laspnet report recommends to Parliament the need for a comprehensive legislative reform on Articles 26(2)(a) and 237(2)(a) of the Constitution to define key terms such as public interest, public use, public order, public safety, timely, adequate, fair and prompt that justify compulsory land acquisition.

Like Bamugemereire, the activists say, an amendment to the Land Acquisition Act is necessary as it will bring it into conformity with the Constitution as a way of operationalizing the Supreme Court decision in the case of Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) against Irumba Asumani and Peter Magelah.

Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, the Laspnet executive director said that the study was undertaken to help understand the reason behind the delays in the identified government projects and support efforts to address gaps in land governance in the country.

She called for regulations that guide the implementation of the Compulsory Land Acquisition laws.

“We are saying that people should be involved from initial stages of the program such that speculators don’t buy off land at a cheaper price and demand for large sums of money in compensation” said Namubiru

Namubiru also said that there should be a resettlement plan for some people affected in land acquisition. She said that in cases of vulnerable people like widows, children and the elderly, it could be better to find them better homes upon acquisition of their land.