Amongin Blocks 10bn UETCL Payment Scam, As 100 Luzira titles are cancelled
By John V Sserwaniko
An inadvertent intervention by lands minister Betty Amongin has saved government billions of shillings that was on the verge of being paid out by Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd (UETCL).
It went like this: a few weeks ago UETCL moved to expedite the construction of 4 power substations badly required to increase the pace of industrialization in the 4 industrial parks. These are Luzira substation, Namanve South near Steel Rolling Mills, Mukono/Mbalala near Nadangira forest and Iganga.
Because he wants to make these parks more attractive to investors, President Museveni has been on the necks of the UETCL bosses calling for urgent completion of the 4 power substations which are being funded with a $180m (over Shs200bn) loan from Exim Bank of China.
The four power stations have between them a generation capacity of 690 Mega Watts: 120MWs from Luzira, 190MWs from Namanve, 200MWs from Mukono and 180MWs from the Iganga substation.
Amongin personally a few days ago ordered cancellation of close to 100 land titles on which the UETCL was supposed to base to pay out billions of shillings to speculators disguising themselves as Project Affected Persons. Her intervention concerned the Luzira substation.
Amongin says on verification, her Ministry through the department of land valuation headed by Gilbert Kerimundu discovered that most of these titles related to land that comprised of parts of Lake Victoria incapable of being owned by private persons.
“I have been cancelling titles in the last so many days and its terrible how these powerful and well connected speculators are determined to rip off the government,” Amongin revealed at National Records & Archiving Center in Wandegeya where she inaugurated the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led Commission of Inquiry into land matters.
Her assertions were corroborated by UETCL Managing Director William Kiryahika who in a subsequent phone interview confirmed there was an attempt by speculators to fleece the company of billions in the Luzira area by basing their claims on what turned out to be fake land titles.
“We thank the Minister [Amongin] for her role in helping us verify these titles. Its true billions were going to be paid out because as you know that Luzira is one area where land is very expensive. It’s good we hadn’t yet compensated and her [Amongin’s] intervention helped us see that many of these land titles were actually in wetlands and some in the waters of Lake Victoria. She advised us to wait paying the money until process of verification was completed and many titles have been and will continue to be cancelled as the verification exercise continues,” said Kiryahika adding that over 90 fake titles had so far been detected and thereby saving billions. “I can’t right now determine how much these fictitious claims were going to cost the country but it was of course in billions.”
Amongin made this revelation while explaining the extent to which many government investment and public infrastructure projects continue to be made prohibitively very expensive-and sometimes impossible-because of the outrageous compensation claims these speculators make.
Amongin said UNRA road projects and oil-related infrastructure are the most targeted and that in the end these fictitious compensation claims account for 70% of most projects’ total cost. She wondered how speculators get to know in advance the exact areas where these public projects are going to pass.
She said the speculators are so precise in the way they speculatively acquire these lands that they won’t just be anywhere near the project but within the area where the project passes which makes compensation even more expensive.
She gave Hoima, Buliisa and other oil areas in Bunyoro as another example where these speculators have become so powerful at the expense of the ordinary people with genuine claims on the land. She said because they have the money, such speculators don’t follow the right procedures to get land titles.
In some cases, she revealed, they have titles on what is supposed to be customary land, wetlands and forest reserves. She applauded Hoima residents who recently descended on a hapless Total Uganda official (a Muzungu), humiliated and detained him for three hours. She said this community vigilance will be vital in defeating what she called inequitable assertions which make whoever has a title a conclusive land owner regardless of how fraudulent the process of that title acquisition was.
Amongin said these and many other fraudulent practices characterizing the process of land acquisition and registration are proof it’s not going to be a simple task for Bamugemereire and her 5 other commissioners including Fred Ruhindi, Robert Sebunya, Dr. Rose Nakayi, Mary Oduka Ochan, Joyce Gunze Habasa and George Bagonza Tinkamanyire.
She urged Bamugemereire to draw on her vast experience to ensure a lasting solution is found to all these problems. She said promoters of land grabbing have become too smart that even the administrative intervention she had designed for Buganda region to enable tenants to pay Busulu/ground rent to the Sub County Chief in case the land lord refuses to receive it directly had been defeated in a syndicate involving shady judicial officers.
Amongin, under whose jurisdiction the land probe falls, said there was a conspiracy in Buganda by Mailo-owning landlords against the poor and this is something Bamugemereire must inquire into. She informed Bamugemereire the public has a lot of hope in her inquiry and warned against betraying high public expectations which clearly emerged one of the inquiry’s biggest challenges the other being resource constraints.
Bamugemereire arrayed fears on this saying the Commissioners were in this for public service and not just for money meaning they are ready to work with minimum facilitation. Amongin also implored the Commission to make recommendations on how the Land Fund can be leveraged upon to finance the creation of an inventory recording all activities taking place on public land throughout the country.
Amongin said she daily receives hundreds of petitions from the poor aggrieved over land-related injustices and vowed to pass on all such petitions to the Commission. Bamugemereire said they are approaching the job with enthusiasm and open-mindedness meaning they will receive all manner of submissions including those sent by anonymous whistle blowers sent via email or the hotline (0392177907) that was issued to the public.
She also vowed to resist all manner of political interference in the inquiry work as will be attempted by wrongdoers fearing to be exposed at the public hearings. She said such threats won’t be new at all because it’s something she experienced and managed to overcome at the previous two inquiry assignments she headed between 2013 and 2015. Eng Martin Kasekende who represented Buganda kingdom used the occasion to popularize the ongoing “Title in your hands/kyapa mu Ngalo” campaign being spearheaded by Buganda Land Board on behalf of the Kabaka.
He explained the 49 year lease acquisition was voluntary and even renewable after 49 years and all this is well stipulated in the lease agreement terms.
“This is only meant to make tenants on Kabakas’ land more secure and nobody is going to interfere with occupancy,” explained Kasekende who was one of the many cultural institutions’ representatives present.