President Museveni has renewed the mandate of to the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters for another six months to enable it complete its investigations despite hovering questions over accountability and legality.
The commission’s first renewal, which was granted on November 10 last year, expired on May 9 but on Thursday, the commission head, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, announced the President’s latest extension.
“I would like to inform the public that the President found it fit to renew the term of the Commission of Inquiry. We have a legal notice number 6 of 2018, it has renewed the term of this commission,” Justice Bamugemereire said.
“We would like to renew the pledge of this commission to the mandate and terms of reference that His Excellency entrusted us with. We will continue to work unwaveringly in order to achieve the goals of the terms of reference and to do a good job and hopefully make a lasting change in which land is administered, acquired, managed and registered in this country,” she added.
Justice Bamugemereire announced that President Museveni appointed Dr Douglas Singiza as the Commission Secretary in the place of Ms Olive Kazaarwe who has since been appointed High Court Judge.
She also said city lawyer Daniel Rutiba is the new commission deputy secretary and Mr Andrew Odit assistant secretary while assistant lead counsel, Mr John Bosco Suuza, was promoted to deputy lead counsel.
The seven-member Commission was set up in 2016 to look into the effectiveness of the law and processes of land acquisition, administration, management and registration in Uganda following increasing land conflicts. They effectively began work on May 3, 2017.
However, the Commission is in spotlight over failure to account for Shs13 billion it received from the Ministry of Finance amid accusations of extravagant expenditure. About a month ago, Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the Secretary to the Treasury, blocked a request from the Commission for more Shs7 billion, until they provide accountability.
A section of lawmakers have insisted that the Commission must account for Shs13 billion it received from the Ministry of Finance before receiving the extra Shs7 billion.
“We are the appropriating authority, we set the terms because the Shs13b we have given them is a lot of money so they should justify why we should give them more,” said Busiro East MP Medard Segona. Sseggona on Tuesday.
The manner in which the Commission spends money has raised eyebrows among officials from the Ministry of Finance, including the Permanent Secretary, Mr Keith Muhakanizi. Sources said the commissioners are paid about $200 (about Shs720,000) per sitting and $690 (about Shs2.5m) per day whenever they travel abroad.
The team has already been to Ghana, United Kingdom, and South Africa. In each country, they have spent about seven days, which translates into about Shs470m for the seven commissioners.
Several government officials, who have appeared and been harangued before the commission, are also quietly looking at a possibility of challenging the Commission’s Final Report, basing on it’s tendency to overstep their mandate and failure to follow rules of natural justice.
“She is going beyond her mandate by issuing orders outside terms of reference. She illegally detains people during hearings and will not allow them to go for lunches,” an exasperated government official told PML Daily recently.
The official is one of several that is on the verge of losing their positions based on the recommendations of Justice Bamugemereire’s Interim Report, still kept a secret. Justice Bamugemereire handed over her Interim Report to President Museveni on February 16, 2018.
Her Commission which effectively began work on May 3, 2017, has questioned several government and private businessmen including – Ministers Kahinda Otafiire, Ronald Kibuule, Charles Bakkabulindi, Fredrick Gume Ngobi, and officials – former Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, former Commissioner for Land registration Sarah Kulata, Current Commissioner for Land Registration Robert Opio, Chief Government Valuer Gilbert Kerimundu, and the Undersecretary for Uganda Land Commission Albert Mugumya.
She has also questioned Kampala businessmen Abid Alam and Ephraim Ntanganda with Mr Alam detained severally over a land wrangle in Kiboga.
Justice Bamugemereire has also detained several land registers and questioned a one Harriet Aber, who is known to be a wife of a powerful general over her involvement in land conflicts in Northern Uganda.
However, scholars have even questioned the basis of Justice bamugemereire’s report as a futile exercise.
A one-year investigation by Makerere University’s Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) between November 2016 and October 2017 concludes that the land question is essentially a product of the political economy of a country.
According to a report, which is compiled by Prof Joe Oloka-Onyango, a constitutional law lecturer at Makerere University, whereas the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission could be a worth-while effort, it is highly questionable whether the findings and recommendations of the commission will fundamentally alter the existential crisis represented by the NRM rule and the historical legacy of the colonial era, coupled with failed attempts at land reform by the early post-colonial governments.
“While the public hearings of the commission have done much to expose the shenanigans of land “sharks” aided by a network of officially-connected and sanctioned individuals and groups, the fact is that it will do little to transform the coextensive system of patronage and the mechanisms of political control and dominance which have led to the crisis in the first instance,” the report reads