M7 Land Inquiry Finally Begins

By John V Sserwaniko

After many months of uncertainty, the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led Commission of Inquiry into land matters in the country is finally starting work. And Justice Bamugemereire has just confirmed as much in a phone interview with this Red Pepper website.

She says that on Wednesday there will be a public ceremony to formally flag off the Commission’s work that will include conducting public hearings for three months from the day of first hearing. According to Lands Minister Betty Amongin, the Commission will (after the last hearing) have another 6 months to prepare their final report.

The three months period will be used for the public to volunteer information and documentation aimed at enabling the Commission arrive at conclusive findings on how to tame rampant land grabbing, evictions and the resultant bloodshed.

Stung by rampant land evictions, land grabbing, falsification of titles and fraud in land-related transactions that have for years been reported to him almost daily by delegations from different parts of the country, President Museveni last December named the seven (7) member Commission of inquiry.

“Hundreds of citizens had been to State House complaining of persistent ineptness and anomalies in the process of land administration, titling and acquisition,” said an influential Museveni aide adding that Bamugemereire had specifically been assigned this role because of the courage and steadfastness with which she conducted business on earlier two inquiries.

These are KCCA and UNRA. Without elaborating, Amongin maintains that the flamboyant Bamugemereire “did a very good job despite intimidation.” The Commission should have commenced work, including public hearings, much earlier on but didn’t because of the financial constraints with PSST Keith Muhakanizi maintaining there was no money.

Without making any direct reference to the funding issue, Justice Bamugemereire confirms they are finally ready to start work and in her estimation, the first public hearing will be conducted most likely in the first week of May. Already the Commissioners have moved in at their secretariat based at the new Public Service Building near Wandegeya-based Ministry of Health.

It’s the new building directly opposite Col John Mugyenyi’s property that used to house UNRA headquarters. Yesterday (Thursday) was the Commissioners’ first day at office operating in this secretariat ahead of the formal launching ceremony next Wednesday. Amongin or Premier Rugunda will preside over that event in order to raise the inquest’s profile. Some government officials want the President to preside over to signal the seriousness government is attaching to this probe.

We were unable to confirm Museveni’s coming as sources close to him maintained it was too early to confirm. There will also be a media event on Tuesday at the same secretariat to set pace for Wednesday’s bigger more public ceremony.

Besides Justice Bamugemereire, the other Commission members include Owek Robert Sebunya (also presidential advisor on Buganda), Mary Oduka Ochan, Joy Habasa, Makerere land law don Dr. Rose Nakayi, ex-AG Fred Ruhindi and ex-Hoima LC5 Chairman George Bagonza Tinkamanyire.

The team will be assisted by a technical team headed by seasoned judicial officers Olive Karazarwe (as Secretary) and Dr. Douglas Singiza. Herbert Byenkya will be Lead Counsel while Judiciary PR maestro the indefatigable Solomon Muyita will oversee the communications aspects of the inquiry. Line Minister Amongin hopes the inquiry report will guide future legislation on land acquisition and management.

The terms  of reference, which are reflective of the commission’s mandate, include: inquiring into laws, processes and procedures by which land is administered and acquired in Uganda; inquiring into the role of Baguma Isoke-led Uganda Land Commission in management & administration of public land; reviewing the effectiveness of regulatory bodies (like NFA, NEMA, UWA etc) in preservation of wetlands, forests & game reserves; soliciting views on the role of large land-owning tradition, cultural & religious institutions; assessing the efficacy of the legal-policy framework guiding land acquisition by government and identifying, investigating and inquiring into the effectiveness of the land dispute resolution mechanisms among others.

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