The fact that land grabbing happens outside the land office and is perfected inside the Title registry of the same office is common place.
A lot of complaints have been raised regarding the dubious modus operandi at the Uganda land registry and particularly the Title registration section.
Such grievances range from the creation of multiple Titles on one piece of land, disappearing Titles and dubiously removing caveats entered on Titles as a precautionary measure intended to keep off wrong characters waiting for any slight opportunity to alter the ownership of land from one person or entity to another.
These, among a wide range of dubious actions or omissions, are knowingly done by the staff of the land office in order to facilitate the widespread cases of land grabbing in the country.
Luckily enough, as Ugandans and authorities continue to grapple with the rot at the land office, a court battle over two prime properties in Kampala comes in handy to help the country take a critical look at what goes on behind the walls of the land office.
The court fight pities architect turned businessman, Engineer Peter Kamya against the country’s top property magnate SudhirRuparelia.
Engineer Kamya accuses Sudhir of colluding with Equity Bank to convert his multi-million Simbamannyo building.
The storied property rented by the Gender and Labour Ministry, among such big tenants, lies behind the Kampala Central Police station and right opposite the High court building in Kampala.
The name of this wealthy enterprenuer has been cited in cases of property grabbing many times in the past. In the immediate past, for instance, the name Sudhir featured prominently during the parliamentary probe into the theft of properties left behind by the departed Asians.
The architect is as well fighting to recover a 3-star hotel in Mutungo which he thinks Sudhir bought too in what he contends was a bogus auction stage-managed by Equity Bank. This hotel operates under the name Afrique Suites.
Equity bank avers how it foreclosed the Simbamannyo building after EngKamya failed to clear a loan worth over USD10m. Sudhir bought the property at USD5m.
But Kamya accuses the bank of selling the building in contempt of an appeal he had embarked on to save it from auction and without giving him prior notice.
He also faults the bank for selling the property ‘so cheaply’. He contends how the building is worth over USD12m yet the bank sold it at a loss of USD7m. He submits the bank shoddily sold the building as it ‘didn’t’ reportedly subject the property to a proper valuation.
While the buyer of the hotel is indicated as Luwaluwa Investments Limited (LIL), Kamya claims how this one is simply a proxy Sudhir reportedly bribed in order to disguise as the actual buyer of the recreation facility.
Kamya’s lawyers of Muwema and company advocates say they even have evidence of Sudhir paying out a total of up to USD1m to the lawyers of Equity.
These lawyers are working at one of the prestigious law firms in this country. The law firm in question boasts of a number of top-tier lawyers who have practised as well as tutored law students for very many years. We are leaving out their names for now.
A total of USD700,000 out of that money, the lawyers for Kamya reveals, was wired to the dollar account of one Ronald Luwangula. Luwangula is said to be one of directors of LIL, a firm thought to be engaged in online trading, but whose certificate of registration indicates it to be a general services company.
Luwangula had hardly a month prior to these state of affairs opened the dollar account in Equity bank which auctioned the properties in question.
Kamya says the bank didn’t bother to carry out an evaluation of the hotel to ascertain it’s true price. The hotel was sold at USD4.3m.
We now turn to the subject of this article, which to remind our treasured readers, is the filth contaminating the land office and which this court battle is hopefully going to help expose.
Upon buying the property allegedly on October 8 last year, Sudhir moved to the land office in Kampala. He went there on the same day of October 8, 2020 he ‘bought’ the property. The purpose of the visit? To have the property transferred in the names of MIL.
While Kamya had placed a caveat on the two properties in September 2020 upon learning of a dubious plot to alter their ownership, Sudhir apparently working with staff at the Titles registry, managed to overcome this challenge.
Curiously, the staff at the land office didn’t inform the owner, as the practice would demand in situations similar to these ones, how Sudhir was moving to remove the caveats he( the Engineer) had placed on the Titles earlier and the basis for which they were being lifted.
Put differently, the people working at the Titles registry didn’t afford Kamya an opportunity to be heard as natural justice would demand in circumstances of this nature, before lifting the caveats. They seem to have only listened to Sudhir, and may be the bank, since they went ahead and cancelled out the caveats anyway.
After lifting the caveats, the Title registry cancelled out the previous owner from the Title for the Simbamannyo building. They replaced the owner cancelled out with the names of MIL.
For the hotel, the staff replaced the previous owner with Luwaluwainvestments(LIL) Limited, the supposed buyer.
Tellingly, upon securing registration on the two properties, the new owners managed to prevail over the staff at the
Titles Registry to place caveats on the properties.
One mulling over the above, goes away with the feeling that the new ‘buyers’ knew very well how the transactions they had just carried out were cloaked in controversy. This is the reason why they chose to caveat the properties knowing very well that someone was going to step up sooner than later and raise an alarm over what had just happened.
But most importantly, the whole process involving the removal of caveats from the properties in question, transferring the properties into the names of the ‘buyers’ as well as placing fresh caveats thereon, was done in just two hours.
To put it into perspective, Equity held the auction on October 8,2020. The bank evaluated the bids on that very day. And the bank was even able to select the best bidder on that same day.
More intriguing, the buyers were further able to have the land office remove the caveats on the same day the bank auctioned the property. Upon removing the caveats, the staff at the land office were able to transfer the properties into the names of the alleged buyers on that very day.
And the ‘buyers’ were even able to move the land office to caveat the properties on that same day. Surprisingly, the ‘buyers’ assisted by the staff at the land office were able to effect all those changes in only a space of two hours.
While we feel the time here wasn’t enough for the bank to conduct the auction and for the land office to effect all the changes they effected on this occasion given the many days this office normally takes to deliver service in situations similar to these ones, we shall nevertheless leave it to the courts of law to dispense justice in these matters without fear or favor.