Amongi Betty Ongom (MP) and minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, has finally spoken out on the proposed constitutional amendment with respect to Article 26 of the constitution on land acquisition.
Government has introduced a proposal to amend Article 26 of the 1995 Constitution to facilitate faster Land Acquisition for Public infrastructure.
The Amendment proposes to insert immediately after clause (2) the following: “(3) Where the owner of property or any person having interest in or right over property objects to the compensation awarded under the law made under clause (2)(b), the Government or Local Government shall deposit with Court for the Property owner or any person having an interest in or right over the property, the compensation awarded for the property, and the Government or Local Government shall take possession of the property pending determination by the Court of any dispute relating to compensation.
(4) The owner of property or person having any interest in or right over the property shall have a right to access the compensation deposited with the court referred to in clause (3), at any time during the determination of the dispute.
(5) Parliament shall, by law, prescribe the time within which any dispute referred to in clause (3) shall be determined.”
Amongi said compulsory Land acquisition is the power of government to acquire private rights in land for a public purpose, without the willing consent of its owner or occupant.
This power is known by a variety of names depending on a country’s legal traditions, including eminent domain, expropriation, takings and compulsory purchase, she explained in a statement.
Regardless of the label, compulsory acquisition is a critical development tool for governments, and for ensuring that land is available when needed for essential infrastructure a contingency that land markets are not always able to meet.
In Uganda, the power to compulsorily acquire Land by government is enshrined in The Land Acquisition Act 1965, (Cap 226) and the 1995 Constitution Article 26.
The provisions in the Land Acquisition Act have facilitated government to compulsorily acquire land smoothly until a critical provision under section 7 was expunged by both the Constitutional and Supreme Court in 2014.
This provision gave the Minister of Land, after an award of compensation valued has been made by an assessor, to take possession at any time after the publication of the declaration if the Minister certifies that it is in the public interest for him or her to do so.
She cited a ruling of the courts followed a petition in the case of: Uganda National Roads Authority vs. Irumba Asumani &Peter Magelah, Supreme Court Constitutional Appeal No.2 of 2014.
The background to the case arose when the Government of Uganda commissioned a project to upgrade the Hoima-Kaiso-Tonya road, leading to Uganda’s oil fields in the Albertine Graben.
Acting under the Land Acquisition Act, the Government compulsorily acquired the project land and the Uganda National Roads Authority (“UNRA”) took possession under section 7 of the Land Acquisition Act before payment of compensation to the owners.
This is so because few people had rejected the compensation value and yet the rest had been paid and work was ongoing; so to avoid delay of the World Bank loan with its conditionality, Government took possession pending resolution on compensation value.
The current amendment is not about Compulsory acquisition of land, it is about how to resolve dispute arising out of an award by the assessor (Chief Government valuer) of the value for compensation.
“Therefore, the fear that many Ugandans will be rendered landless and their property acquired compulsorily without fulfilling the Constitutional principles of prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation prior to the taking of possession or acquisition of the property, are unfounded,” Amongi said.
She said it critical to expedite the process of land acquisition for strategic and development initiatives as enshrined in the constitution.
Such initiatives may include public infrastructures such as roads, electrification, railway lines and social infrastructure projects including facilitating health care and schools among others, where land is needed to undertake such projects.
She cited cases of delayed land acquisition as:
Projects under NWSC in Kyambogo where in August 2015, the Private Property owner rejected a valuation amount approved by the Chief Government Valuer of UGX. 23,595,000 insisting that the appropriate compensation award to the land (0.23 acres) based on easement was UGX. Sh. 15, 880,000,000.
Kitante road and Centenary Park: The leasehold property owner objected to NWSC’s work in the area even when the Controlling Authority (KCCA) had cleared NWSC to commence works in this section of the project area.
By 16th June 2016, this denial of access to NWSC had cost the country UGX 979,915,047=.
Shoprite – Ben Kiwanuka Street: The management of Shoprite Ben Kiwanuka Street objected NWSC’s work of laying a sewer pipeline which connects Nakivubo sewer network to another sewer network around Goods shed – Entebbe road.
Land in Banda: Plot 1A – Plot 8A, Mukaabya – Banda close: A project affected person rejected the compensation award of UGX 79 million attached to his land, as approved by the Chief Government Valuer and insisted on UGX 1,150,856,789.
Land in Kinawataka – Kasokoso: Work is scheduled to commence 30th July 2017.
Out of 135 project affected persons who were cleared by the office of the Chief Government Valuer – for receiving approved compensation awards, 43 have contested and rejected the approved compensation awards and so work cannot proceed.
Others are projects under Electrification; like the Shs18 billion Ntenjeru-Nakisunga-Mpatta-Naama power line whose diversion cost Shs280 million.
Standard Gauge Railway cases causing delays, UNRA Projects that have suffered delays due to Contestation of Compensation Awards, the delay of Kaiso Tonya road in Hoima District; The acquisition of land in Buliisa district for international oil companies in Uganda: Tullow, Total and CNOOC and for other petroleum activities and mid-stream operations; Acquisition of land by Uganda Electricity Distribution Company for the power line to Kitgum district, among others.