Crying foul. The Ministry of Agriculture, for a long time among the biggest landlords in Entebbe, has lost large chunks to the airport expansion project. As Stephen Kafeero found out, a number of the ministry’s staff are crying foul following orders to vacate their quarters
The looming eviction of ministry of Agriculture staff residing near Entebbe International Airport to pave way for the expansion of the airport, has left the affected persons concerned. Questions have been raised and accusations of collusion on the part of those driving the project are flying about.
This came out in multiple Interviews with senior and junior staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), who asked not to be named because they are not authorised to speak for the Ministry.
They accuse officials of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), their ministry, other government officials and individuals of conniving to gain from the project.
But CAA officials deny any wrong doing and say the institution, which is in charge of licensing, monitoring, and regulating civil aviation matters in the country, was granted the Agriculture Ministry land around the airport in 2003 and only delayed to take possession of it. All reference to land grabbing by the Ministry of Agriculture officials, CAA says, is baseless.
“The whole expansion projects are coming to a point where they touch the existing airport,” says Mr. Fred Bamwesigye, CAA’s director human resource and administration. “We have even removed our own Police and fire quarters and relocated them far away.”
He says the land to be taken away from the Ministry of Agriculture is planned for the development and none will be taken by individuals as some allege. He says: “If any stupid man goes in there (to acquire part of the land for personal use) then he is really too stupid because how can they access the land? It is actually not contemplated.”
Some of the people we interviewed have been living on the land for many years, some more than 10 years, and now have a March 6 deadline to leave or be forcibly evicted.
They alleged a conspiracy to have them leave “very fast” so that the ministry’s land can be parcelled out without resistance.
“I am reliably informed that even now 19 hectares of this land has been grabbed, using CAA as cover, for self-enrichment at the expense of the country,” a senior Agriculture ministry official at the level of a commissioner, says.
“Some parliamentary investigation must come here because it is very painful. The ultimate goal is to take everything but they are going step by step,” the official adds.
He suggests such an investigation should cover all the assets involved in the airport expansion project, especially land of the Agriculture Ministry.
The trend of parceling out the Ministry’s land, one official said, started during the reign of former agriculture Minister Hope Mwesigye and her the deputy in charge of Animal Husbandry, Mr Bright Rwamirama, and has since worsened.
The current leadership at the Ministry, the source says, is embroiled in confusion inherited from their predecessors. Ms Mwesigye held the post from 2009 to 2011 while Mr Rwamirama was in the position from 2006 until he was recently moved to Defence ministry.
Officials say during Ms Mwesigye’s reign, attempts were made to sell off the Veterinary Training Institute property to Indian businessmen but the move was thwarted by technocrats in the agricultural ministry.
Ms Mwesigye and former Agriculture Permanent Secretary, Mr Vincent Rubarema, are also said to have been behind the botched relocation of Ministry’s headquarters from Entebbe to rented premises in Kampala. The relocation was said to be motivated in part by plans to grab the ministry’s prime undeveloped land in different parts of Entebbe.
In one of their recommendations, the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority-PPDA following investigations on the offices’ acquisitions asked the agriculture ministry to “come out with clear plans and definite timelines to salvage the spacious land they own at Entebbe so as to avoid wastage and the risk of encroachers”.
For example, land belonging to the Leather Training Institute next to Protea Hotel in Entebbe was under “unclear” circumstances given to “investors”. It is on this land were the African Gold Refinery (AGR) which President Museveni launched recently, was constructed.
The leather training school is listed among the 130 public assets whose sale Parliament, last year, announced would be probed over allegations of corruption and collusion.
Senior officials in the agriculture ministry also fault the past ministry leadership especially PS Rubarema who they accuse of presiding over the giveaway of the ministry’s properties in “darkness”.
For example, the agriculture ministry employees who face eviction say they only learnt of their eviction in November last year when CAA issued them with eviction notices with some only getting official communication when on February 24, the ministry in a back dated letter(February 13) asked them to vacate the premises. The latest negotiations to give away the agriculture ministry land started in 2012 and the decision was, according to Ethel Kamba an undersecretary in the ministry, made in 2014 by a “high level committee” chaired by Mr Rwamirama, the then Minister of State for Animal Industry. The meeting according to minutes Daily Monitor has seen, took place on June 10, 2014 at the Live Stock Experimental Station, Entebbe with senior officials from CAA, Ministry of Works and Agriculture attending.
In exchange for the land and the agriculture ministry property that has already been demolished or is set to be demolished by CAA contractors, the ministry employees argue that their bosses should have insisted on CAA constructing houses for critical staff on part of the ministry’s remaining land instead of leaving it idle and hence susceptible to land grabbers.
Agriculture ministry employees, for example, cite the 42 modern housing units for the Aviation Police which CAA recently commissioned. They say, a similar thing should have been done for the “critical” staff of the agricultural ministry.
If not handled well, the ministry staff also claim, that their eviction will affect the operations of the National Animal Disease Diagnostics and Epidemiology Centre (NADDEC), a biosafety and biosecurity center.
When there are outbreaks of animal diseases such as anthrax, testing is done at the laboratory and samples are kept at the lab which operates for 24 hours according to the staff.
“This laboratory is on the Ugandan soil but these things have regional and international implications and that is why it is called a bio safety and bio-security,” one official said.
“Our people talk so much about security, terrorism. This is dangerous. If you are a terrorist, you get anthrax and all these viruses, bacteria and pathogens, you can cause havoc,” he added.
Police is also accused of forcefully taking over the agriculture ministry land that formerly housed the Veterinary Training Institute (VTI) and turning it into a police barracks. When Daily Monitor visited the facility that is less than kilometer away from the main airport terminal, apart from occupying the dilapidated VTI buildings, police officers had gone ahead and constructed mud and wattle structures to accommodate the excess number of officers and their families. While the officers provide security at the airport, CAA says they are not a direct responsibility of the aviation body but are under the Internal Affairs Ministry and the Police leadership.
A 2014 directive to police to vacate the premises to allow the agriculture ministry activities to go on was never respected.
Attempts by the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Data Bank (NAGRC&DB) who are supposed to run the facility, to evict Police, according to staff, have not yielded any success.
On a directive of President Museveni, Mr Bamwesigye says all the agriculture ministry land around Entebbe Airport was allocated to the aviation body in 2003 to support plans to expand the airport.
The plan Mr Bamwesigye says was to remove the agricultural ministry infrastructure to another place where the activities of the ministry could take place. CAA acquired a land title for the entire land.
The assets of the agricultural ministry, however, were not moved immediately until 2014 when the aviation body finalised plans to expand the airport.
In 2014, however, the ministry petitioned President Museveni contesting the CAA’s claim over the land through the Presidential Investor’s Round Table (PIRT), a forum that among others advises government on how to make Uganda a more competitive investment destination.
Following the petition, President Museveni ordered the land be shared, by half, between the two government agencies. This meant that CAA would take about 66 hectares out of the 132 hectares in contention and the ministry with its attendant agencies would retain the rest. CAA says the 66 hectares were less than what they required for expansion.
Following back and forth negotiations between the line ministers and other officials, it was decided CAA use 77 hectares for the present funded project and would get the remaining land for future projects.
“If we don’t continue with our activities, you know this money is borrowed, everyday there is interest. You delay, you pay heavily. We are in a situation of avoiding penalties but we also wish to be humane to our fellow citizens,” Mr Bamwesigye said during an interview at CAA headquarters in Entebbe.
He said the only vital infrastructure of the ministry that will be affected in the current expansion is the hatchery. He says CAA is already in negotiations to have a new one established in Njeru, Buikwe District.