The move to withdraw the Constitution Amendment Bill No.2017 that sought to give the State absolute power to acquire land for development without first compensating the owners has Wednesday attracted mixed feelings from civil organisations that fight for land rights.
The Constitution Amendment Bill was tabled before Parliament last year but it stoked controversy with concerns that if passed into law, it would people’s right to land, which is a fundamental source of livelihood on which 80 percent Ugandans derive sustenance.
The land rights activists, however, say, much as the government seems to have heeded the cry of Ugandans to ensure that the land rights are guaranteed as provided by the constitution, the withdrawal should not be used as a smokescreen to re-table “unfair” bill at an appropriate future date.
“However, considering that there have been attempts to amend the same Article and we hope this withdrawal is final and not a tactical withdrawal for yet another scheme to take away rights of citizens over their land,” Mr Fredrick Kawooya, the Advocacy and Campaigns Manager at Action Aid Uganda said. “Under Article 237, land in Uganda belongs to the citizens of Uganda and shall be vested in them in accordance with land tenure systemsn provided for in the Constitution.”
He said although the bill has been withdrawn from Parliament, the enjoyment of land rights still remains a great challenge to the country.
“We have numerous complaints of people being displaced from their land with little or no compensation in spite of the existing constitutional safeguards,” he said.
While withdrawing the bill, Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana, the Deputy Attorney–General, said the government needs to carry out further consultations.
“We are the sponsors of this Constitution Amendment Bill. However, subsequent to presenting it for the first reading, government discovered that the Bill required extensive consultations,” Mr Rukutana said during plenary on Tuesday.
Mr Kawooya said if government wants to ensure that the cost of land compensation is not inflated, it has to reform and strengthen land administration to fight corruption among its officials who get prior information on various projects like roads, buy land where the project would be implemented to target exorbitant compensation.
“Speculators, most of who work in government, get advanced knowledge of a proposed government project and where it will be implemented. They run to the project area and buy land at cheap price then sell to government at a more expensive price,” he said.
The activists say the government should continue to respect, uphold and promote Article 26 by undertaking free, prior and informed consent of parties whose land it wishes to acquire.
“After doing so, fair, adequate and prompt payment should be made to protect affected persons,” he said.
Accordingly, the activists from Laspnet, Action Aid Uganda, Voice and Pelum Association said, to ensure justice courts should ensure that handle land matters are handled expeditiously by creating special courts to handle land disputes.
The activists say they are ready to decampaign the bill if it’s re-tabled.