For almost one hundred years, Uganda was known for its land registration system, which secured land rights. This reputation has now been dissipated through rampant frauds, which have invaded the land sector.
It is common today to have two title deeds in respect of the same piece of land.
Similarly, one could have a title deed in his names only to find that at the land office, his land has been subdivided into as many as 20 plots registered in the names of different people.
According to the Country Commercial Guide for US Companies report for 2016, land ownership is one of the barriers to investment in Uganda and unless we wake up to the chaos in the land registration system, the country will face difficult times ahead. The solution to this crisis lies in amending the law to make registrars of title accountable for their actions.
The first law to control land matters in Uganda was the Land Regulations of 1897, under which the Commissioner (Governor), was given power to grant to any person a certificate authorising them to hold and occupy a portion of land described in the certificate for a term of not more than 25 years, which was extended to 99 years under the Crown Land Ordinance of 1903.
Under the Land Law of 1906, ownership of mailo land by non-Africans was restricted.
Section 2 of the Ordinance provided that “The words which are herein written are the words which shall govern every owner of their land when the government has surveyed his land and has finally recognised this as his land. To hold land in this way will be known as mailo and the land of this description will be called “mailo.”
The Registration of Land Titles Ordinance of 1908 introduced the Australian torrens system of land registration, which was based on the indefeasibility of title deeds and also the principle that upon registration, all land had to be identified. This meant that the registration process started with the survey of the land by the survey department.
Mailo land, which has been in the news of late, had the following features:
• An individual could only own up to 30 square miles. This came about because a number of people who did not appreciate the meaning of a certificate started to sell their allocations.
• The mailo owner could not transfer his land to a non-African without the consent of the Lukiko [Bugand Parliament] and the Governor.
• Where a person left no will, succession was ascertained by customary rules.
• Customary rights of the people to the use of roads, water and springs was protected.
Before 1900, the rights of control over land in Buganda fell into four main groups namely - the rights of the king and his chiefs, clan rights, individual proprietary rights and peasants’ rights of occupation.
The present constitution allows a regional government to control land policy through regional land boards with representatives on each district land board. The rejection of this proposal has contributed to confusion in land matters in Buganda.
In order to solve the confusion in the land sector, the power of the Commissioner for Land Registration to cancel title deeds, should be transferred to a tribunal for land adjudication.
Secondly, the office of the Commissioner for Land Registration, should be separated from that of Commissioner for Land Administration.
Thirdly, all microfilms, which were fraudulently removed from the custody of the Commissioner for Survey, should be returned for the public to access them.
Fourthly, the book recording instrument numbers should be accessible to the public. Lastly customary rules must be given respect.
Mr Mulira is a lawyer,