MPs stand firm ahead of State House meet over land

Maj. Gen. Otafiire underi pressure with public opinion mounting against land bill. File picture.

By Vincent Kasozi

As members of the NRM parliamentary caucus are expected to take their seats inside State House Entebbe for a meeting the President today there is every indication that the government will attempt to cajole MPs into pushing through the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2017.

Every indication emerging from conversations with some of the MPs suggests that the President is not giving on amending Article 26 of the Constitution.

He want to make it possible for the government to push through its plans for compulsory acquisition of private land for public infrastructure projects without the present requirement for payment of fair prompt and prior compensation.

This assumption is drawn from the characteristic manner in which the NRM government handles debate on contentious bills in the House. A caucus meet at the seat of power is usually an opportunity for the party chairman to ‘impress’ upon the party MPs the urgency and necessity of the proposed legislation.

A number of MPs who spoke to PML Daily noted that the bill is too contentious to be pushed through in its current form and any party caucus will find it impossible to convince members to support it.

The NRM chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa denied having summoned her party legislators to discuss the bill. Without disclosing why the caucus was meeting the president she insisted that this was an ordinary caucus meeting with a different agenda.

But Ajuri county MP Denis Hamson Obua said today that MPs have to be given enough time to consult their electorate.

“Land belongs to the people ” he said. “We have to go back and consult.”

The Fort Portal Municipality MP Alex Ruhinda took an even harder line noting that the bill was unnecessary and that the government had to clean up its compensation mechanisms in order to weed out corrupt officials who delay the process.

“I think government is desperate, this is a desperate attempt to cure the problem but for me I don’t think that that will resolve the matter,” he said.

The bill in question seeks to amend Article 26 of the constitution in order to hand the government powers to compulsorily acquire private land before conclusion of compensation disputes.

Government claims that land compensation disputes have delayed public projects at a huge cost to the state. But opponents of the bill point out that half the time the delays are caused by corrupt bureaucrats who stymie negotiations with private land owners for their own selfish interests.

The bill has kicked up a storm with various sections of the public expressing concern over alleged intentions by powerful government officials to grab private land. Several MPs from across the political divide have voiced objections to the bill and called for it to be withdrawn.

All around the country, influential church leaders, opposition politicians, civil society activists and cultural leaders are mobilizing  public opinion against the bill which they have denounced as unconstitutional. The bill is seen as a surreptitious ploy to deprive unsuspecting Ugandans of the right to own land.

On Tuesday, the king of Buganda, Kabaka Mutebi repeated his opposition to the government proposal. His views have already hardened opinion against the bill in the central region where he is reputed to be the largest land owner.

The Kasambya county MP Mbwatekamwa Gaffa delivered a vitriolic objection to the intentions of the proposed law today equating it to the nefarious decrees passed during the Idi Amin dictatorship.

“Much as I go (sic), the president won’t convince me, I will stay with my position, I am not supporting it 100%,” he said with finality.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Kahinda Otafiire retreated from the legal committee of Parliament last week after failing to convince MPs on the relevance of the bill. Before he was forced to retire, the minister looked on as the committee members proposed alternative solutions to the land compensation disputes that are at the centre of government’s justification for the bill.

Otafiire promised to return in two weeks with responses to the MPs proposals. The two weeks have since elapsed with no word from the minister.

The committee on Legal and parliamentary affairs has scheduled a press conference for 11 o’clock Thursday morning where it is expected to announce the way forward.



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