Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana

By Priscilla Alma

A meeting between Government and MPs to discuss the proposed constitutional amendment to Article 26, ended prematurely after the two sides failed to agree on the reason as to why the Constitution has to be tampered with.

Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana and the Minister of Lands Betty Amongi shouldered the questions from MPs, on the side of Government.

Rukutana kicked off the discussion before MPs on the Committee of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, with the D/AG arguing that the bill is aimed at curing the delayed execution of Government projects that have for long been hampered by land compensation disputes.

If passed in its current form, the bill will give Government and Local Governments powers to possess private land for public projects and deposit the compensation award before court while awaiting a legal decision over the dispute.

Rukutana termed as misleading reports that the amendment would render Ugandans landless arguing: “Contrary to what some sections of the public and media is portraying that the bill is intending to grab people’s land and render citizens landless, the bill reinforces the requirement of Article 26(b) on prompt adequate and fair compensation by Government.”

Further, he said all right thinking members of society should support the proposed amendment, emphasizing that public interests take precedence over individual interests.

But his remarks infuriated MPs Jackson Rwakafuzi and Muhammad Nsereko who termed his statement as ‘bogus’, demanding he withdraws it.

Also, Bugweri County Abdu Katuntu, a member on the Legal Committee rubbished Rukutana’s argument, pointing out that the bill seeks to take away people’s rights to land.

Katuntu warned that if passed, the amendments would give Government an automatic right to take the land and transfer the burden to the land owner to run to court with all the hazards it has.

“I can assure you that we are not going to take decisions affecting people’s rights over their land without consulting them. That will not be possible,” Katuntu said.

He also wondered why Government should be trusted with land in dispute, if it has failed to clear the debt of people who willingly gave out their land.

Katuntu also reminded the Committee that the move will worsen the domestic debt that has hit Shs2trillion, with court awards accounting for Shs600b.

The Bugweri County MP also added: “What does that mean? Government isn’t good at payment. Attorney General, you have been coming to this Committee every year and you have court awards amounting to Shs600b. So the evidence we have is that Government doesn’t pay.”

Committee Chair Markson Oboth and Workers MP Aston Rwakajara demanded that Rukutana explain why Government thinks that amendment to the land laws is the most pressing issue in the country, and also asked as to why the amendments were being brought when there is a Commission of Inquiry into land matters already in place.

The meeting was adjourned to Thursday after Rukutana failed to justify the need for amendment of the Constitution, with MPs arguing that instead, new provisions should be put in place for courts to quickly dispose of land dispute matters.