There was drama at the Ministry of Lands Zonal offices in Wakiso district on Wednesday following an impromptu visit by Commission inquiring into land matters. The visit, which was part of the Commission’s first public hearing out of Kampala, caused a stampede at the offices, whose workers have in the past been accused of arriving late for work.
Justice Catherine Bamugemeriere and her Commissioners seemed to have carefully planned to storm the offices so as to interact with people who had turned up with complaints. Journalists who had turned up at Wakiso Court to cover the Commission proceedings were taken by surprise when Bamugemeriere and the other commissioners drove out of the premises suddenly when the hearing was expected to commence.
The Journalists were only saved by Commission Secretary, Olive Kazarwe who alerted them that they were likely to miss the story of the day. Bamugemeriere arrived at the Lands Zonal office at 9:45am causing a stampede that was worsened by her security detail comprised of Counter Terrorism Police.
Her target was the District Lands office, which she missed because she was directed to the Lands Zonal Office located up stairs. The Principal Lands Management Officer at Wakiso Lands Zone, Jackson Mukaga hadn’t arrived by the time the Commission stormed his office.
Justice Bamugemeriere knocked on his office door several times but there was no response. Mukaga was saved by the presence of Francis Banumba, a Senior Registration Officer who was already on his desk. On entering Banumba’s office, the Commissioners were stunned to find some of the land titles, including both the new processed and very old titles scattered on the floor.
There was no filing cabinet in office. Banumba complained that his office, just like that of other officers under Wakiso Land Zone isn’t well-facilitated. He said the office was also faced with huge cases of title forgeries.
He pulled a collection of forged land titles from his drawer, some of them with his forged signature. Banumba explained that police haven’t helped much to apprehend the fraudsters. From Banumba’s office, the Commissioners returned to Mukaga’s office at around 10:50am but he still wasn’t there.
When the Commissioner finally accessed the office, they found several complaint letters on his desk. One, from a Law Firm belonging to the Former Lands Minister Omara Atubo complaining on behalf of a client, whose land in Bukasa was erroneously transferred to another person.
Bamugemereire wasn’t amused that the officer wasn’t at his desk when they arrived.
After three minutes in an office, whose owner was said to be in the Lands office in Kampala, the Commission marched to the ICT section. Bamugemereire knocked at the door expecting to take the occupants by surprise but Banumba came in first and placed his fingers on the electronic access devise to usher in the commissioner.
It was 11:03 am. Two ICT officers, Henry Mugume and Ahumuza Patience were already at work. The two are charged with verifying expiring leases among others. Joyce Habasa, a Commissioner and Surveyor by profession asked the duo several questions. Justice Bamugemereire, who was seated behind Mugume’s computer, asked how the computerization of land titles was going on. Jackson Mukaga finally arrived to join the meeting in the ICT section.
The World Bank-funded land title computerization project has been criticized by some of the witnesses that have appeared before the Commission of Inquiry. After about fifteen minutes at the ICT section, Bamugemereire and her team decide to return to the Customer Care Section located down stairs where they found a seemingly dissatisfied, Rose Namazi. She has spent close to six months trying to secure her land title from possible fraud.
Namazi, dressed in a green dotted gomesi was seated at the reception holding a copy of her land titles. She was planning to walk out of the Office when Justice Bamugemereire stormed the customer care unit. The 75-year old woman had gone to seek information on whether she should surrender her land title to the heir. According to Namazi, the heir had asked her to surrender the land title to him claiming that his five-acre piece of land was wrongfully annexed to hers.
Namazi said she was uncomfortable to surrender the title fearing that her land would be stolen. Andrew Mwanje, a Customer Care Officer at the office had advised the old lady to seek services of a lawyer or a surveyor.
Mukaga promised to personally follow up Namazi’s matter. With Namazi’s issues almost done, the Commission was led to the Zone’s Lands strong room. The strong room holds tens of thousands of land titles from Kyadondo and Busiro area stored on shelves. Mukaga told the Commission that the Zone needs a bigger strong room since the current one has no room left because of the numerous land title subdivisions.
He explained that the many real estate dealers and land brokers are partly to blame for the space issues since they rank high in applying to subdivide land titles. From the strong room, the Commission visited other officers on duty, who they found more prepared. Bamugemeriere directed the officers to furnish her Commission with a number of documents.
The Commissioner returned to Wakiso court at a quarter to 1:00 o’clock to address some of the district officials including the Chief Administrative Officer, Luke Lokuda.
Lokuda told the Commission that Wakiso with about two million people is urbanizing so fast in all its four municipalities. He said over 70 percent of land transactions in Uganda are in Wakiso district.
Lokuda said land in Waksio is mostly owned by Buganda Kingdom, adding that most of the local governments there don’t own the land they seat on. Bamugemereire explained that their decision to seat in Wakiso district and the impromptu visit to the Land office were meant to help the commission feel the real issues on the ground.
Wakiso is home to eighty percent of the country’s wetlands. The district is one of those with serious conflicts between landlords and their tenants. Every judicial officer at Wakiso has over two hundred land cases.
Information from court indicates that the land cases at the district outweigh criminal cases. The worst bit of it is that the rate of land disputes tends to inform the type of crimes that happen in Wakiso.