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Prominent names in irregular land acquisitions in Hoima

Communally owned land is secretly being parcelled out and registered in the names of rich and well connected individuals, leaving residents helpless.

We don’t know these people (who hold titles), we have never seen them, we don’t know them, but they have secretly processed land titles for our land – Alfred Ongei, a local leader.

TIU REPORTA new report by Transparency International Uganda and Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED) has revealed the extent of the land conflicts in the oil-rich Albertine Region, accusing some government officials of grabbing community land and secretly registering it in their names.

Titled Up Against Giants: Oil Influenced land injustices in the Albertine Graben in Uganda, the report faults several prominent people in Hoima district for processing land titles for community land without following due process.

These include Edgar Agaba, the Head of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) who allegedly acquired and processed a land title for communally-owned land in Kiryamboga village, Buseruka Sub County, Hoima district. The report claims that Agaba owns Bugahya Block 5 Plot 33, FRV 551 Folio 25 measuring 33 hectares. Another name that comes up in the report is Alfred Kiiza, the former Chief Administrative Officer of Hoima district, who allegedly irregularly acquired a chunk of land located at Bugahya Block 5 Plot 33 RFV 513 Folio 12 measuring 27 hectares. Also mentioned is Edward Asiimwe, the current secretary of Hoima District Land Board, who is said to own 41 acres of land in the same village.

The Report argues that in processing the titles, the named individuals didn’t notify the customary tenants. “Failure to notify Kiryamboga residents of the land titling signals a failure to comply with the land that Hoima District Land Board is mandated to uphold,” the report reads. “This evidence indicates that prominent individuals, including past and current Hoima District personnel, have engaged in an explicit and egregious oil influenced land grab in Kiryamboga, Hoima district.”

However, other than naming the individuals and their alleged failure to notify the residents, the Report doesn’t explain any other procedural irregularities that were committed.

Not guilty?

Ireeba Mpazi Yustasi, the Chairperson of the Hoima District Land Board could neither confirm nor deny the allegations in the report saying he was barely three months into his term. He however promised to follow up the matter. “In particular, for the Secretary of the District Land Board, we shall investigate him; if these allegations are true, the Board will take disciplinary action against him,” he said.

The Report claims that Asiimwe declined to be interviewed on record when the case study was being put together. However, when interviewed for this story, Asiimwe admitted to owning land in Kiryamboga village, saying he acquired it through the right procedures. “The authors of that Report should have inquired from the Area Land Committee if procedures were followed or not. But what I know, I followed all the procedures,” he said before he hang up.

Edgar Agaba also denied that he had irregularly acquired any land in Hoima. “I have heard those allegations. Well, I need to cross check, whether the land mentioned is the actual land I have there,” he said. Agaba explained that the land he owns was formerly public land and that he successfully applied for it through Hoima’s District Land Board. “I followed the due process. I applied for it, and it was surveyed. I was formally granted the land. I find it funny for someone to say I fraudulently acquired the land,” he said.

He points out that he was never interviewed by the authors nor anybody on how he acquired the land before the report was published. “I was granted that land because we wanted to construct a dam there. There is Kabalega dam; I am one of the shareholders in Hydromax, a company that owns the dam. We now plan to construct a hotel and a golf course on the land,” he said. Hydromax is also a World Bank-funded project.

The Report notes that the nascent oil industry has created a state of lawlessness and impunity in the oil-bearing areas and calls on government to investigate the mentioned cases and bring the culprits to book.

Procedure

The Land Act provides that before customary land is converted into freehold, an application is made to the Parish Land Committee where the land is located. The Committee must then make a public notice in public places in the area where the land is located. This allows any person with an interest in the same land either to give a nod of approval or object to the application. In cases of no objection, the Committee then recommends to the District Land Board for consideration which then causes the land to be surveyed before approving the application. In case the District Land Board approves the application, it refers the file to the registrar of titles to issue the applicant with a certificate of title.

Report by Edward Ssekika

editor@oilinuganda.org