Following the recommendation of Parliament last year to government to withdraw the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017, on grounds that the proposals fronted by government can be taken care of through amendments in the Land Amendment Act of 1965, government has now introduced a land tribunal and High Court as the last resort for all appeals on land acquisition, in the new proposals.
The bill was aimed at amending Article 26 of the Constitution to enable government or a local authority compulsorily acquire land. This according to government would then facilitate timely acquisition of land for public projects like roads, railways, defence, health and other social services.
According to the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Betty Amongi, the new bill is complete and the Ministry has already started on consultations of different stakeholders in different parts of the country.
She was Wednesday addressing reporters at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala.
“The Ministry has started a process of consultation to ensure that the Land Acquisition Act is repealed to capture the provision of Article 26 and to facilitate timely acquisition of land for government projects,” Amongi said, adding that consultations in Hoima and Karamoja region are already done.
“Key among the issues we are addressing in this proposed bill is the introduction of a tribunal which will be appointed in the proposal with terms of reference, will be the first mechanism of handling dispute where the land owner who has contestation over the amount valued by the Chief government valuer, will be required to register and lodge their complaint with the tribunal,” she says.
The complaint will be registered in 15 days and the tribunal is expected to consider the dispute within 30 days.
“If the land owner is not satisfied with the tribunal’s decision, then we have proposed that the High Court which shall be the final Court of appeal will then make a consideration of the appeal made by the land owner,” she said.
The appeal consideration shall as well take 45 days.
Asked about how the tribunal will be constituted, the Minister said it shall consist of a Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and three other members who will all be appointed by the President and then approved by Parliament.
The tribunal’s membership will comprise registered surveyors, quantity and land surveyors as well as a lawyer and its mandate will be limited to only matters arising from a dispute on determined value when government is acquiring land for a public good.
On the independence of the tribunal, Amongi said that despite the President being the appointing authority of the tribunal members, Parliament will vet all the appointees and that the High Court will as well be able to fill any gaps in case they arise from the tribunal.
“You can not run away from the principle that the President is the one who appoints membership of all statutory bodies and commissions. The major issue is that Parliament vets and it being a representative institution, it is a good mechanism to ensure that people who are vetted will independently handle issues related to land acquisition,” she said.
The Minister added that: “The President’s interest is not to take land for himself or government, but specifically where a public good is to be established.”
On whether it is not necessary to include a representative of land owners on the tribunal, the Minister said “that will come during the consultations and we will look at it and examine it.”
Amongi said the Ministry is convinced that the proposed time frame will be adequate to address land disputes arising out of contestation on the value by land owners.
The 2017 Bill provided that government deposits with Court compensation awarded by the Government Chief Valuer which is under contention for any property declared for compulsory acquisition, a move opposed by many stakeholders, according to the Minister.
“They proposed that government comes out with proposals that would ensure timely resolution of disputes and therefore, we feel that consultant should zero on the institution that should deliver time dispute resolution in respect to contest over value that that been assessed by the Chief government valuer,” said Among.
The new proposal provides that when government has made a determination that a particular land is needed, the valuing process will be made and land owners who accept will be paid, and those who dispute the valuation by the government valuer, will have an option of the tribunal and the High Court. This is contrary to the earlier proposal in which gave government a go a head to deposit with Court compensation in case of a dispute, and assume ownership of the land.
What happens in case one disagrees with the High Court decision?
Like earlier stated, land owners who disagrees with the decision by the Tribunal, will be required to lodge their dissatisfaction in the High Court.
The decision of the High Court on disputes arising from land acquisition in this proposal, will be final.
“You cannot disagree with the High Court decision because it is the final Court of appeal. We shall have no option, but to pay what the Court has determined. Court is independent of me, government and you the land owner,” Amongi said.
Reminded about the incapacity in the High Court which is one of causes of a huge backlog of cases, which could not enable court settle the disputes in the prescribed time, the minister said “we have given timeline in which this matter must be dealt with, but in case of a delay, there shouldn’t be worries.”
If your case is not determined within in the 45 days, the law will not say that government should forcefully take your land. Under the provisions, it will only be after the Court of law have made a determination, Amongi said.