The government has told landlords including tycoons with plots in wetlands that it is not ready to compensate them when their buildings and other assets are razed after their titles in the expansive Kinawataka wetland were cancelled by the lands Ministry.
Speaking at the first public hearing of stakeholders, the Assistant Commissioner, Ministry of Lands, National Housing and Urban Development, Johnson Bigiira noted that whereas the Ministry issued land titles for the properties in the Kinawataka Wetland, there is no provision for compensation.
“Compensation is out of the question, the blame for the Ministry of Lands resulted from the information of the applicants and it is a principle of the law that nobody benefits from an illegality for us as a Ministry we will not compensate anybody for canceling those titles which have been proved to be irregularly issued,” Bigiira said.
The cancellation of land titles stems from a petition that was filed by the Ministry of Water and Environment to the Ministry of Lands highlighting that several people claim ownership of properties in protected areas which is contrary to the law.
Whereas Bigiira admits that his Ministry issued over 300 titles in the 11.9 square kilometers – Kinatakawa wetland based on irregular information from the property owners, the private surveyors, the land committee among the technical staff, it still has the mandate to cancel these titles without compensation.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right and we are saying that actually the whole process of titling was irregular and it’s that irregularity that we are addressing and nobody can benefit from a wrong,” Bigiira added.
When asked about the technical people who are responsible for this mess, Bigiira said that where Ministry finds an officer worked outside his mandate, he/she will be reprimanded.
“Also we are going for private surveyors, the area land committee, the district land board all these entities are checking mechanisms they are supposed to have done the sieving before they bring the title which is the last tail end,” Bigiira noted.
This was after several property owners expressed their dissatisfaction in relation to the decision by the Ministry of Lands to cancel more than 300 land titles in the Kinawataka Wetland that stretches from Ntinda Ministers village to Kyambogo, Banda, Kasokoso to Luzira.
The contested land belongs to some of the richest people such as Sudhir Ruparelia through his company Meera Investments, former KCCA Central division mayor Godfrey Nyakaana, Andrew Rugasira of the Good African Coffee brand, Seroma Limited among many others.
Fredrick Kagga, a proprietor of Banda Development says that the decision to cancel land titles is unfair to Ugandans who legitimately gained the properties with the help of the established government systems and agencies.
He adds that after legally gaining the land titles, property owners in this area got their plans approved for the development of their premises from institutions like Kampala Capital City Authority, the National Environmental Management Authority, and many have even occupational permits but they are now being victimized by the same entities.
“The people who approved our developments are the very people saying that we are in error and that they are ready to cancel the land titles, that is a challenge, it is a sign of incompetence of either the workers or the entire system pertaining to this subject,” Kagga added.
Kagga wondered: “How do you expect a person who has gained a loan or retirement package come to get some land and develop it for any purpose, to be the one with his/her surveyor go on the ground to check whether this is a wetland but for them who have the technology to tell if this is a wetland, simply say for us we can issue a title without knowing, then who should know.”
However, not all land titles are to be canceled because the process that started last year is focusing on the properties whose titles they registered after the enactment of the 1995 constitution.
Bigiira says for the titles gained before 1995, the Ministry will act based on the guidance of the Attorney General the Ministry of Water and Environment, and the Prime Minister’s Office.
He reveals that in the first phase 61 land titles are being handled and by the 15th of October, the fate of these properties will be known.
He notes that although the Ministry of Lands has the mandate to cancel the land titles; it offered a public hearing to the concerned parties instead of condemning them without giving them a fair hearing.
“For the stakeholders who are dissatisfied can opt for joint surveying, we are not here to condemn people who are not affected. We can go back and do boundary opening on the ground if you feel your title is not accurately captured, or it is outside the demarcated lines” Bigiira ads.
Meanwhile the lawyers of Meera Investments left the public hearing prematurely because they had already filed a case in court challenging this process regarding the company properties in the contested area.
We expect the exercise to go beyond Kampala, Bigiira says that after this Kampala exercise, the ministry has a similar exercise for Kigezi, Busoga, and Bukeddi so in the long run, we are going to roll across the country, Bigiira concludes.