Just hours to the close of the 2017/2018 financial year, officials in the ministry of Finance paid about Shs7b for land whose ownership is still the subject of contest at the ministry of Lands and for which warnings against payment had been issued.
If the money had not been paid out on June 30, 2018, the law would have required that it is sent back to the Consolidated Fund, meaning the deal would perhaps have collapsed.
Even after the money was paid, the land that was supposedly bought is still a subject of arbitration at the Lands ministry, and Saturday Monitor has learnt that a hearing to determine the true owner was held on July 18, more than two weeks after the land was paid for by government.
The scheme is said to include ministers, officials at the ministry of Lands, the ministry of Finance and its agencies, lawyers and other private citizens who reportedly used insider information and their positions to see the deal through.
We have seen copies of two separate land titles for the same land – the land in question – comprising of Busiro Block 535-540, Plots 161, 162, 208 483, 326, in Buwaya (Namugala and Lulongo-Ssazi) Wakiso District.
One title belongs to Augustine Bukenya Muwulizi, Robinson Matovu, Eric Ngoye Makumbi and Judith Nalubega, who are administrators of the estate of the late Samwiri Kironde [Caused No. 1078 of 2015 of the High Court). These are represented by Ajungule & Company Advocates.
The other title, which the administrators of Kironde’s estate claim is a forgery, belongs to a former senior officer with the Air Force, Col (rtd) Dick Lutaaya and Paul Bukenya, who are represented by Katende Ssempebwa & Company Advocates.
The Internal Security Organisation (ISO) has, according to sources and documents seen by Saturday Monitor, taken interest in the case and commenced investigations into the same following a July 6 petition to the organisation.
The attention of the Inspectorate of Government was also drawn to the issue, on similar grounds, according to a July 11 petition, a copy this newspaper has seen.
Others who have been petitioned include the President’s office, the Finance minister, the Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister and the commissioner of land registry.
Saturday Monitor understands that ISO boss Col Kaka Bagyenda has since deployed four military guards to safeguard Richard Mutatiina, a retired soldier, who blew the lid on the deal.
Asked about the matter and whether he sanctioned protection for Mr Mutatiina, Col Bagyenda said: “Well, I have got many departments, I don’t know if they have received any information but investigation is part of our game. So, what is so special about this?”
When we put it to Col Bagyenda that the information we have indicated that he had personally handled the matter, and that he had given the whistleblower security after his life had been threatened, he said: “I don’t want to be in your papers these days…” He hung up.
Mr Mutatiina confirmed that he raised the alarm on the deal and that his life has since been under threat. He said he was once kidnapped over the matter.
The land in question was sold to the Uganda Free Zones Authority (UFZA), a corporate body under the supervision of the Finance ministry. The Agency is responsible for the “establishment, development, management, marketing, maintenance, supervision and control of free zones” among other things. This includes identifying and mapping areas to be declared as “free zones”.
In a July 6 petition to ISO, it is alleged that Col Lutaaya and Mr Bukenya connived with top officials at UFZA, ministry of Finance and two State ministers to see the deal through.
The petition says a top official at UFZA initiated the agreement of the payment to Col Lutaaya and Mr Bukenya.
Ms Betty Kasimbazi, the Undersecretary at the Finance ministry, authorised the payment through Katende Ssempebwa & Co Advocates, and that the squatters on the land were paid through Kirya & Company Advocates. Investment minister Evelyne Anite and another minister in the Attorney General’s chambers sanctioned the payment.
Earlier, on May 10, Kirya & Company Advocates had written to the executive director of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) on behalf of a one Andrew Muhwezi and Andrew Atwine Besigye, complaining against the land offer submitted by Katende Ssempebwa & Company Advocates. The complainants listed eight reasons, including that there was an intention to sell to the government “non-existent land/certificate of title”.
Before the payment was effected, a deal to settle the squatters (represented by Kirya & Company Advocates) on the land was seemingly reached.
In an interview with this newspaper, lawyer Julius Kirya said they have since abandoned all the claims they had raised against the sellers of the land (represented by Katende Ssempebwa & Co Advocates) after the interests of their clients were taken care of.
“We managed to resolve them [issues] and we don’t have any problem with the transaction. It was handled and they [Kirya’s clients] were compensated. You know kibanja holders basically don’t hold any registered interest in the land. It is at the level of ownership where they are fighting,” Mr Kirya said.
Reports suggest that even the tenants/squatters on the land have never been paid but Mr Kirya says: “They will move [leave the land], by the time government takes over (because) they don’t have any complaint.”
The deal reportedly faced another stumbling block when Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the Finance ministry Permanent Secretary and Secretary to the Treasury, stopped the payment after M/s Ajungule & Company Advocates complained. Attorney General William Byaruhanga also reportedly rejected to clear the transaction before further scrutiny.
Two searches, one on May 6, 2016 and another on June 18 this year, were conducted at the Land Registry and both, according to documents seen by this newspaper, returned the administrators of Samwiri Kironde as the registered proprietors of the land. It is these administrators whose protests were ignored and payment in favour of Col Lutaaya and Mr Bukenya as administrators effected.
The 2016 search was authenticated by Mr Haruna Golooba, while this year’s search was signed off by Mr Dan Oundo Malingu on behalf of the commissioner of land registration.
Presented with the information, Mr Muhakanizi first wrote on June 18 in a “loose minute” to Ms Betty Kasimbazi, the Undersecretary in the Finance ministry, directing her not to effect payment. The letter was copied to the Accountant General and UFZA executive director Collin Muhumuza.
“Reference is made to our telephone conversation this morning. A copy of the letter is attached on the procurement of the above land. In view of this contention, please stop payment until we have satisfied ourselves that the land you are going to buy is the real one and has no legal ownership problems. By copy of this letter, I am informing the Accountant General accordingly,” the letter reads, in part.
On June 21, Mr Muhakanizi wrote to Ms Kasimbazi again. This time, the letter was not copied to anyone.
“I am in receipt of correspondences that are raising very pertinent and fundamental questions regarding authenticity of ownership by [Col] Dick Lutaaya and Paul Bukenya, whose land was evaluated as the most suited for a free zone,” the letter reads in part.
He adds: “In light of this, you are advised to look into the claims by the administrators of the estate of the late Samwiri Kironde to establish the legitimacy of their claims to avoid signing a contract and effecting a payment to persons without a right over the land. You are, therefore, required to furnish me with explanations addressing the issues raised by Ajungule and Co. Advocates who represents the said administrators.”
Information available to Saturday Monitor shows that Ms Aisha Kabira, a senior registrar of titles in the Lands ministry was tasked to verify and cancel the fake title. A hearing was consequently set for July 10, 2018, at 9am and was scheduled at the Office of Titles, Kampala.
The payment, made on June 30, did not wait for the July 10 hearing on the authenticity of the title.
Fight not over
Lawyer Sulaiman Ajungule of M/s Ajungule & Company Advocates in an interview with Saturday Monitor, said they were taking steps, including challenging the process in court and petitioning the IGG to get justice for their clients.
“It is quite unfortunate the level of impunity we are experiencing because we tried as much as possible to draw the attention of the UFZA to this. We petitioned the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and we have proof that he tried to stop the payments and that his directive was ignored,” Mr Ajungule said.
We have seen a letter dated July 12, 2018 to the board chairperson of UFZA by Ajungule & Co. Advocates in which they warn UFZA not to inspect the land which they say will amount to trespass.
“Our clients who are registered proprietors of the above described piece of land are aware of your intentions to go for a site inspection for purposes of opening boundaries. Please be informed that this land belongs to our above clients and have never sold the same to anyone,” the letter reads in part.
Prof Frederick Sempebwa told Saturday Monitor:
“This land has been owned by our clients since 2008. As far as our part is concerned, the Lutaayas came here and said they want to bid to sell that land to Uganda Free Zones Authority and they wanted to use our office because the bidding process is technical and requires a firm that has a name. So, we agreed. The prices and so on did not concern us, we just did the technical work, we got the certificate of title, we checked in the land office and the bid process went ahead.
The bidding process started in November last year and due diligence was done.
There were two bids, the first bid process the Lutaayas won and this was after UFZA visited all the sites and deemed theirs most suitable. The other bid was after UFZA had ascertained the title, which was free.
The first bid was cancelled after those who had lost out complained and the whole process was re-advertised. Again, the Lutaayas put in a bid and when it was succeeding, people who had earlier petitioned came up with new matters and brought a list of squatters claiming the bid could not go ahead until they are compensated. The issue of the squatters was resolved and the process went ahead. As the bid succeeded and other people learnt that the payment was going to be made, they came up with a new matter. They came up with a certificate of title with a different plot number purporting to cover our client’s land. Their certificate of title was issued on January 18, 2018. This was long after the procurement process had started and they now claim they are the rightful owners of the land which our client procured in 2008. Those facts you can ascertain.
They know this certificate of theirs is fraudulent because if someone had sold your land, you would run to court fast. You would not run to the IGG, you would be protecting your property.
One title is 2008, another title superimposed because they heard there is money going to be paid in 2018. They should be going to court to say that the Lutaayas sold their land. That is what they should be doing and then the matter will be taken on. As far as the buyers are concerned, they ascertained the land is there, the LCs [Local Councils] are there, they know who the owners of the land are.”
On the search
The first title under the law is the valid title but you cannot come up with a subsequent title over the same land with a separate block number. Under the law, that is impossible because if I have stolen your land, then it is in the record that you are the registered owner. Your reaction would be to go to court.
As we speak, the transfers have been done, so why do you go to the IGG when this land is being sold? How can you of 2018, claim the owner of 2008 stole your land. Where have you been these last 10 years?
In summary, these people should go to court but there has been no petition filed. Since they found out they are not bothered by the court process, instead what they are trying to do is, if I understand them very well, reverse a sale, which will not give them that land. They are fighting a sale of which land is still in our client’s name.
They are tarnishing people’s reputations so that there is an investigation but any investigation which will be supported by documents, which is official, will come to nothing because the bid was straight forward. It was an open bid process (following) proper procurement procedures. And the Lutaayas have been selling this land since 2012. If you own the land there, why didn’t you raise the issue?