Recently, the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, warned an arrogant witness appearing before the commission that land cannot be stolen.
This statement must have been puzzling to people used to reading stories about land thefts, but can be explained in four ways namely:
Land is an immovable commodity, which cannot be moved or disguised; the law protects a registered proprietor, who can only lose his title through his own fraud; where there are two title deeds in respect of the same piece of land, the law protects the first title to have been issued as such a land grabber’s title is not protected; all transactions in land are represented by an instrument number at the land office and these numbers are serially entered in an instrument book, where they cannot be tampered with.
This information will come as a shock to land grabbers, who have been paying colossal sums of money to corrupt officials at the land office to acquire fraudulent title deeds over other people’s land.
A title deed, which was obtained without the owner’s duly executed transfer, is cancellable by the Commissioner for Land Registration under section 91 of the Land Act without the need to go to court.
Land grabbers are cheated by the corrupt officials who just hide the original file and open a new one in which ownership of the land starts with the land grabber. With the introduction of the computerisation system, only the land grabber’s information is fed into the computer and to the fraudster’s nightmare, the original owner remains with his title, which he can use in court to enforce his rights.
The old leadership at the land office had planned to amend the law so that only computer-generated information would be receivable in courts of law. Their removal from office and the fact that such a move would be unconstitutional, have derailed the proposed amendment.
In another fraudulent move, a senior official in the land office, advised the government in 2014 that title deeds issued under the Title to Land Registration Ordinance of 1908, were cancelled in the 1930s. This was a lie because section 32 of the Registration of Titles Act specifically provides that the register for such title can only be closed after the owners of such titles were brought under the new register.
The fraudulent advise enabled land grabbers to claim very high compensation from government after they acquired fraudulent titles in areas where government projects were planned. This led a frustrated President Museveni to call for amendment of Article 26 of the Constitution, which requires government to pay prompt and adequate compensation for land it acquires for its projects.
Lastly, under the Buganda Agreement of 1900 and the Land Law of 1908, an African could not directly transfer mailo land to a non-African. Instead the African could first transfer the land to the Governor who would then issue a Grant to the non-African.
This practice was subsequently found to be against the spirit of the agreement on the square miles reserved for the Africans under the agreement.
In 1915, the British government directed that such Grants be converted into 99 leases under the Crown Lands Ordinance at the end of which the land would return to the African owner.
Unfortunately, instead of returning the land to the African owner, the land office has been dishing it out to land grabbers, government bodies and officials.
The Lubowa estate land Prince Yusuf Ssuuna leased to Capt Hill and Owen is a case in point. Parliament must investigate this major constitutional issue.
Mr Mulira is a lawyer.