The Government in 2017 put in place Guidelines for Compensation Assessment under Land Acquisition Act.
These proposals are for reform of laws relating to land acquisition by the Government, and they include the amendment to the Land Acquisition Act (Cap 226) in order to bring it into conformity with Article 26 of the Constitution of Uganda. This has remained a big concern among the citizens who lack clarity and specificity on how to deal with land acquisition issues.
In modern planning, it is important to appreciate the ownership of customary land and to consider who is to be compensated under compulsory acquisition when it comes to carrying out government plans for construction of roads and railway infrastructure.
With so many landholding systems interlocked it has become difficult to deal with negotiations for planning and development purposes or to establish who should be rightly compensated. To some extent this situation exists together with the legislative measures which were introduced during the colonial administration and since the Independence of Uganda in 1962.
If the Land Acquisition Act (Cap 226) is amended and brought in harmony with Article 26 of the Constitution then it would facilitate compulsory acquisition of land expeditiously by the Government for national development while giving the opportunity to the people not satisfied with the compensation awarded to have their dispute resolved expeditiously by court.
This would enable the Government to have access to land for development purposes without necessarily depriving the land owners of their right to prompt, fair and adequate compensation before taking full possession of their land.
Currently, there is a challenge imposed on the Government as most of the infrastructure projects are time bound and yet there is no legislation operationalizing Article 26 of the 1995 Constitution.
This calls for quick action and fast-tracking if the development projects are to be implemented with limited court action. The proposed amendment to the Land Acquisition Act and specifically the provision for mandatory and expeditious disposal of land matters has been widely supported by some members of the legal fraternity. They tend to agree that courts can handle the dilemma by solving the compensation issue and improve on the progress with infrastructure projects. This position would allow governments development projects to be on schedule without wasting much time.
According to the Constitution, the Government cannot take possession of the land until it has paid the owner compensation and or adequately resettled them. Article 26, (2) provides that,” the compulsory taking of possession or acquisition of property is made under a law which makes provision for-(i) prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation, prior to the taking possession or acquisition of property.
Article 26 as was proposed in the Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2017 was to the effect that, where parties were unable to agree on fair and adequate compensation, the Government may take over the land pending determination by the courts of law. The position has since changed in the New Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2019 where Article 26 (1) and (2) was not tampered with because it would violate the citizens’ rights to own land, to be compensated on time, to reject inadequate compensation and of access to court for redress.
In a bid to solve the points of contention, there is need for deeper engagement to rebuild trust between citizens and the state and building ground in citizen’s confidence in the state as the protector of their right to property and land.
The New Constitutional Amendment Bill 2019 provides for the establishment and functions of city land boards. This is significant because the establishment of various cities across the country it is required that city land boards manage land administration in the new cities.
Finally, much as the Constitution clearly guarantees the right to own property, the existing legislation does not spell out the compensation and resettlement modalities. Worse still, most affected land owners do not have the means and capacity to use the procedural and remedial windows. This results into breakdown of social relations, homelessness, landlessness and injustice.
However, there is need for more sensitization and awareness creation of the people, especially at the village level about their rights to property and the process involved in property acquisition and remedies available. Further to this, the remedial process should be made simpler, affordable and accessible to all irrespective of status whether rich or poor, literate or illiterate.
The writer is a member of Uganda Human Rights Commission