- Infrastructural development and middle income status are a welcome initiatives and indeed appreciated however while in pursuit of this, the fundamental right to property enshrined under our Constitution should not take a back seat.
In the wake of President Museveni’s Hakuna Mchezo campaign which literally means an effort to ‘get work done without joking’ and in a bid to realise Vision 2040 and transform Uganda from a majorly peasant society to a modern and prosperous country in the next 30 years, various legal and policy reforms are being formulated to make this a possibility.
Land and agriculture being our economy’s biggest steering points, it is easy to see why these sectors would be a direct target for such reforms. In specific reference to land, the new proposed amendment to the Land Acquisition Act 1965 seeks to provide for expedient compulsory acquisition of land to be used for government development projects such as roads and other forms of infrastructure by ensuring that compensation for identified parcels of land is deposited with a court of competent jurisdiction meanwhile the project remains on going.
The law as it stands currently, requires the government, upon identification of the land to be acquired (which should fall within identified legal parameters), to adequately compensate the land owner before commencing a project. These stringent requirements have in many instances frustrated a number of these projects, the most notable example being the Entebbe express high way where in some extreme cases diversions to the road have been made to ensure works continue. This inevitably increases the cost and time of implementation. This current state of affairs is what the proposed amendment seeks to remedy.
This proposal has however evoked a lot of sentiment from the public a lot of which has been negative. Dr Kizza Besigye called this an attempt by the government to take over private land from Ugandans without compensation, a move he has vowed to vehemently oppose. I want to believe these are legitimate fears. Land being a complicated issue and with our history (in relevant part) doing nothing to help, packages aiming towards reform should be made with a lot of caution. Article 237 (1) of the Constitution provides that land belongs to the people who own it in accordance with the stipulated tenures. This position of ownership comes along with certain privileges that must be respected.
In a country where there’s wide spread impunity with certain individuals/ agencies being above reproach and there are weak systems it is not a question of if but when this law( if taken on) will be manipulated at the expense of the ordinary citizen.
Infrastructural development and middle income status are a welcome initiatives and indeed appreciated however while in pursuit of this, the fundamental right to property enshrined under our Constitution should not take a back seat. The challenge whether government will manage to balance these interests will remain to be seen.
Rebecca Atayo is a lawyer