Land Bill: What does the amendment say?
As parliament braces itself for a show down between the supporters and those opposed to the government’s controversial land amendments that have strained relations between state house and Buganda’s seat at Mengo, it’s imperative for the country to know what all this means to the ordinary citizen.
The amendments, generally affect the relationship and rights of the tenants as provided for in the constitution and those of the registered owners/landlords.
Among the tenants which the amendments seek to protect include ‘lawful occupants’. These are people in occupation of land under customary tenure but whose tenancy was not closed or compensated for by the registered owner when he or she applied for a public lease over the land.
The other and significant category of tenants whose interests the land amendments seeks to champion are those called bona fide occupants. A bona fide occupant according to the Land Act, is a person 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 agents 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 government or its agents including the local authorities such as district councils.
The legal effect of these provisions is that the law treats bona fide occupant as a tenant by occupancy - meaning that such a person is a tenant of the registered owner and that such a tenant is supposed to pay ground rent to the landlord. The 1998 Land Act had fixed ground rent which at a laughable shs1,000.
According to the proposed amendments, the district land boards are legally mandated to determine the annual nominal ground rent payable by a tenant by occupancy within six months after the commencement of the said amendments.
In the event that a particular board fails to fix the nominal ground rent, then such rent will be determined by the central government minister responsible for land matters.
The government also proposes that the rent payable shall be paid within one year after the minister’s approval. It’s also provided under the amendments that if a tenant fails to pay the approved ground rent for a period exceeding one year, the registered owner shall give a notice to the tenant requiring him or her to show cause why the tenancy should not be terminated for non-payment of rent and shall send a copy of the notice to the district land committee.
But the most controversial and important aspect of the amendments is that which deals with the grounds and procedure under which a tenant can be evicted by the landlord. The amendments state that there is only one ground under which a lawful or bona fide occupants can be evicted and that’s for non-payment of ground rent.
The proposals further state that even for the eviction to be carried out, there must be a court order only for non payment of the annual nominal ground rent.
The amendments go further to criminalise any attempts to evict or participation in the eviction of a lawful or bona fide occupant from registered land without a court order.
If a person is convicted of evicting lawful or bona fide occupants without a court order then such a person commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment not exceeding seven years.
The same principles apply to a person claiming an interest in land under customary tenure. But before the court issues an order, it must do certain things and these include hearing the case of the person claiming the interest in the land; ensuring that adequate compensation has been paid to the person claiming the interest in the land before a landlord evicts such a person, except where the person has abandoned the occupancy; and that the court has visited the locus in quo (the location of the land in dispute) and has received a report from the land committee of the area on the status of the occupants on the land.
Next week, the writer will examine the competing rights of registered land owners (landlords) and the lawful/bona fide occupants and why the amendments can’t cure this conflict.
The writer is a journalist and advocate