President Yoweri Museveni is at it again, this time round calling for the amendment of the Land Act to effectively oust the jurisdiction of courts in land management matters. For the second time in as many months, the president’s move is bound to put him on a collusion course with the judiciary especially when the constitution provides for the sacred doctrine of separation of powers between the two major pillars of the state.
The legal fraternity through their professional body – the Uganda Law society have already voiced their concerns in an open letter to the president which was published in Daily Monitor last week.
Apparently Mr. Museveni is angered by the decisions handed out by judicial officers in land cases which decisions he claims have led to the unfair eviction of tenants(peasants) . The president’s misgivings are also shared by one of his generals –Gen David Tinyefuuza who called on tenants to defend themselves by means of ‘revolutionary justice’ against land owners.
The learned General Tinyefuuza went a step further to incite the masses to take the law in their own hands by calling upon the police not to protect court brokers who lawfully evict people from land.
The executive’s continued efforts to undermine the institution of the judiciary which is one of the national institutions mandated by the constitution to check and stem the excesses of our national leaders will be a subject of discussion in this column on another day.
However, lets examine the legal fundamentals in respect of land ownership viz the NRM government’s failed attempts to legally secure land rights for the millions of landless Ugandans.
For starters, its not true that Uganda’s decades long land problem is a creation of the judiciary or judicial officers as president Museveni and his government purport it to be. Rather the Land problem is a creation of the political elite in the successive governments the country has had since independence.
The political bourgeoisie have continued to play the populists card to hoodwink the peasantry (the majority of whom are landless) by deliberately sidestepping the legal parameters that recognize the lawful registration of land as the only means through which both citizens and non citizens can lay a claim of right to land.
Security of tenure or land ownership is paramount for the development of any given society/country. There is no single investor worth their name, whether local or foreign will invest in a vital resource like land with out being guaranteed security of tenure.
And that’s why it’s very important that the courts of law as empowered by our constitution should continue to arbitrate in land matters to ensure that bonafide purchasers and owners of land have their rights protected under the law.
And for the record ,courts of law don’t enact laws. Rather, the judicial officials follow and apply the law as it stands on our statute books. In fact there is a clearly defined legal hierarchy right from the grade two magistrates up to the supreme court through which contentious legal matters of any manner and degree (including land matters) can be settled. The issue of lopsided judgments as Mr. Museveni claims will not arise under this arrangement unless when its considered in a political and not legal perspective.
The government is guilty for enacting a Land law – The land Act 1998 without first putting in place a national land policy and guidelines in the administration of the different land tenure systems in the country .
The government is equally responsible for the continued disputes between the landlords and tenants because it has failed to provide for a national land fund through which tenants can secure funds to purchase land or adequately compensate land owners for land lost to the customary tenants ( squatters).
As a result many of the sections of the Land Act are inoperative thereby making it difficult for people to secure their land rights. According to the constitution, the radical title to land (actual ownership) is now vested in the citizens of Uganda at large. This in effect means that the state no longer has reversionary rights over land.
The state can only acquire land through purchase or compulsory acquisition but after an adequate compensation to the land owner(s). The long standing -politically volatile relationship between the landlords and tenants/ peasants was never cured by the Land Act because the government has failed to economically empower the citizenry to purchase and own land.
Next week ; Why the provisions of the Land Act have been rendered redundant.
The write is a journalist and advocate
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