The President is about to break the law
November 6, 2007
President Museveni, at the weekend, reassured the nation that the executive is not about to alienate the rights of landlords in a renewed government effort to protect peasants from evictions and rent hikes.
Government is already in advanced stages of amending the Land Act to ‘protect’ peasants from land evictions. Among the proposed amendments is one intended to give the Minister of Lands more powers to order Resident District Commissioners to stop land evictions.
It’s been proved in the past though, that political interventions in land ownership and management matters- have not been particularly helpful in resolving the land question in this country. In fact ‘political solutions’ to the land problem that usually pit landlords against tenants (peasants) have abetted more conflicts.
Because the right to own property including land is protected in the Bill of Rights in our national constitution, it’s not politically prudent for our national leaders including Mr Museveni to side-step the provisions of the law in their pursuit of social justice.
In any case , equity and parity can only be realised by observing the rule of law. RDCs who are largely partisan have no constitutional mandate to stop the execution of a court eviction order in land matters.
Besides, the Registration of Titles Act (RTA) provides that ownership of land can only be recognised and enforced at law when a land owner erects to register his interests in land at the Land Registry upon which a certificate of registration is issued.
It’s only a certificate of registration that is conclusive proof of ownership of land . Any person without a certificate of registration can not lay a claim of ownership- meaning that such a person can be evicted from land at anytime upon a directive of court.
Because of these internationally accepted principles governing ownership of land as a major factor of production and in a broader move to resolve the conflict between landlords and tenants/squatters, the framers of our constitution in Article 237(8) provided for additional rights to protect the equitable rights of the peasants.
The constitution provides that persons in lawful or bonafide occupation of land shall enjoy security of tenure. This new set of land rights coupled with the traditionally known mailo, freehold (under these two tenures land is owned/held in perpetuity), leasehold and customary, form the country’s land tenure system.
The Land Act defines lawful occupant to mean a person occupying land by virtue of the Busuulu and Envujjo law 1928 or that person(s) who entered the land with the consent of the registered owner. The other category of lawful occupants protected by the Act are those in occupation of land under customary tenure but whose tenancy was not disclosed or compensated for by the registered owner when he or she applied for a public lease over the land.
On the other hand, a bonafide occupant of land according to the Land Act is one who, before the enactment of the 1995 Constitution, had occupied or improved land without being challenged by the registered owner of the land or his agent for 12 years.
Bona fide occupant also refers to a person (or a successor in title of such a person) who had been settled on land by the government or its agents including the local authorities such as district councils. The law also treats a bona fide occupant as a tenant by occupancy and is required to pay ground rent not in excess of Shs1,000 (per annum).
It’s clear from the provisions highlighted above that the main mischief the constitution and the Land Act sought to cure was the eviction of millions of landless people. But much as we have an elaborate law governing land, the conflicts between the landlords and tenants continue to grow because although the rights of the peasants are recognised by law, they are subject to the registered landlords under the RTA explained above.
And these competing rights can only be resolved through purchase or lawful transfer of property rights from one party to another or acquisition after adequate compensation or purchase at open market value.
Much as the government has made strides in securing the rights of squatters (peasants), nothing or little has been done to address the residual problems of offering adequate compensation to the landlords on whose land the squatters acquired equitable interests under the constitution and the Land Act respectively. Government should economically empower peasants to purchase and own land.
The writer is a journalist and advocate
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