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TEARFUL MORNING AS KAMPALA WETLANDS OFFENDERS CONVERGE AT LANDS MINISTRY

By Mulengera Reporters 

On Thursday morning hundreds of lawyers, Kampala property owners and journalists converged at the Lands Ministry Board room in Kampala.

They were here to show cause and explain themselves as to why their respective land titles, which government says are in wetlands, shouldn’t be canceled in which case they will lose land and property thereon without being entitled to any compensation. The guys at the Board room are mainly wealthy middle class people with residential and commercial properties in the neighborhoods of Kyambogo, Kinawataka, Luzira and Bugolobi etc.

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Cabinet recently, at the prompting of the Ministry of Water and Environment, resolved that all property in wetlands should be demolished and the relevant land titles cancelled because the land in wetlands comprises of what is called protected natural resources: the others being natural forests, lakes and rivers.

In the Ministry Board room were the representatives of KCCA, NEMA and Ministry of Water & Environment which officially wrote to the Lands Ministry petitioning against continuing encroachment on the wetlands around Kampala. And in response to the petition, the Lands Ministry, closely working with Premier Robinah Nabanja, drew up a list of the properties encroaching on the protected areas. They arrived at such properties through referencing on the satellite imagery map for the affected wetlands.

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From the Lands Ministry came a large delegation of officials who were led by the Principal Registrar of Titles Johnson Bigiru who also chaired the Thursday public hearing. The PRT made it clear from the start of the meeting that the Lands Ministry is by law permitted to review its own decisions relating to issuance of titles especially where a mistake is detected to have been committed.

He explained that in issuing titles, the Lands Ministry depends on the recommendations coming from the Area Land Committees and the District Land Board or even the Uganda Land Commission. He added that, because it’s illegal under the Constitution to issue titles on protected areas, it’s going to be very hard for any of the affected tycoons to successfully defend themselves. He also claimed that many of them are not innocent/bonafide purchasers of value without notice because they applied for titling well knowing these were wetlands.

He said the only category of offenders who are likely to be spared or even considered for compensation are those who were on the land and had the same titled in their names before the coming into force of the 1995 Constitution.

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He then called for responses from the audience that filled the Ministry’s Board room to capacity and even created an over flow in the corridor. The respondents included those, like Meera Investments who came with their lawyers, informed the meeting they had court orders protecting their respective titles and demanded to know why the Ministry had gone ahead to list their properties among those to be canceled for being in wetland.

The larger number were those who were tearful wondering where the GoU wants them to go. Johnson Bigiru assured them that they will have to go because government isn’t prepared to risk facing the consequences that would result from increased human activity and encroachment on the wetlands.

Some demanded to know why the Lands Ministry wants them to vacate from properties which they lawfully acquired from KCCA following a transparent purchase process that was even advertised in the newspapers. Some demanded to know why their properties had been listed on the list of wetland encroachers yet their neighbors, located in similar locations, hadn’t been listed.

Jackson Nimusiima, who owns a residential property on Plot 48 in Luzira’s Lake Drive, moved many to tears when he nervously narrated his ordeal while imploring Bigiru and others to have mercy on him. “I acquired that place properly in 1996 and I had just left University and started working. I even have a wetland Atlas which the President launched and it shows my property isn’t in the wetland. I’m not a tycoon and I’m not very rich. I’m just a civil servant who will be retiring soon and it’s the only property I have in my life. So, where I’m going to retire with my children? How can I start afresh? Where can I even start from? I didn’t forge. Everything mine is legit and I’m so stressed I might even die of heart attack anytime but why? Why do all this to us? Where do you want us to go?” he cried out as he struggled to hold back tears.

He said he has been to the Ministry of Water countless times but everyone there have turned their back on him and he doesn’t know where to go next. Isaac Mpiire, a property owner in the Luzira neighborhood, tearfully demanded that the Lands Ministry gets out of the Board room and begins holding such hearings on the locus for better observation. Bigiru immediately responded that the Ministry was ready for such boundary opening and on-site verification but on the cost of the land owner. Bigiru also assured the affected property owners to act promptly because they have just up to Friday next week after which massive title cancelation will commence.

Robert Kiwanuka, speaking very arrogantly and with extreme indifference, asserted that canceling land titles merely because it wants to protect wetlands is a very outdated thing for any government to do. He demanded that they be allowed to stay where they are and even be allowed to develop more properties in the wetlands because the same is common in Egypt via River Nile and even in the Netherlands. “Just come up with guidelines and regulations and then we shall show you that its possible to build in wetlands without endangering anyone like the Egyptians do on River Nile,” he said.

Another developer accused NEMA of too much bias demanding to know why government projects, such as the extension of electricity lines by UETCL, were continuing to be implemented in the same area without anyone constraining them. He vowed to drag NEMA to court.

Another contributor dared NEMA to drag all encroachers to court “rather than wasting our time in unhelpful hearings like this one.” At this point, Bigiru warned developers about the fact that government is very serious this time round and no one is going to be permitted to have any property in a protected area.

He also rejected suggestions that the Ministry sits down with the developers and find some win-win situation without having to raze down people’s properties. “That isn’t going to ever happen because the law is very clear and there is nothing we are going to discuss with someone who is in clear violation,” he vowed. “Go carry your cross or blame your surveyor, the District Land Board or area land Committee members who misled you into such titling.”

James Kasigwa, another land owner, associated himself with the views Robert Kiwanuka expressed and demanded to know why he shouldn’t be compensated yet he genuinely bought his land and property thereon. He demanded to know why the Lands Ministry would proceed to issue the title when they knew this was protected land. Another property owner and developer, a lady, cried out wondering why the land she properly acquired or purchased from KCCA, following a public advert calling for buyers, has to be listed among those to be demolished.

“I have been living there calling it home since 1991. KCCA had duly surveyed it and titles were issued through the government system. There are even roads in that area and other infrastructure all put up by KCCA to make the place livable. How do you say all that is illegal? Where are we supposed to go? Why then do you cancel our titles yet even technology can make it possible for human activity to be safely carried out in a wetland?” she tearfully asked.

Kagga Fredrick, a veteran NRM cadre from Banda in Nakawa Division, cried out accusing the Lands Ministry, which erred in the first place, of seeking to be a judge in its own case. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us atmulengera2040@gmail.com).

 

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