By Concerned Ugandan
Thomas Jefferson, one of the USA founding fathers remarked in 1809: “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of [a] good government.” He promoted a standard that unfortunately eludes many a government of developing countries. Often claiming concern for the needs of the people, many African leaders want to advance selfish policies that simply entrench them in power and at most enrich family members and consorts; not the common man. And Uganda is no exception, whose president Yoweri Museveni has been at the helm since 1986, following a bloody 5-year war opposing many similar anti-people policies. Under his watch, there is a continual state control of hostility to the people.
Take the ‘Betty Amongi’ proposal for a law allowing the government to take possession of private land before compensating it’s owner. What care for happiness would such bear, dispossessing powerless persons of their property, which plain reason and legitimate law guarantee? Granted, the executive suggests that the amendment to compulsory land acquisition procedures would eliminate delays for government to embark on projects on the said land. The proponents attempt to have government skirt bargaining over compensation with the landowners. It anticipates hesitance to satisfy claims for adequate consideration, as the owner may otherwise deem reasonable a price for their coveted land. Talk about legalizing land grabbing by a state syndicate! Moreover, there is proven fear that a handful of powerful politicians and well-connected business figures lurk behind government dealings in such matters.
The big chunks of Kitante Golf Course on which today stands the privately owned Garden City complex and what used to be Shimoni Schools, are some examples to back these concerns. It is, therefore, strange that one’s government is hell-bent on empowering itself to take from its people and not compensate them acceptably. Is someone looking to use an acrimonious law to target someone’s land? Given Uganda’s cheap-shot politics, where party concerns triumph national interests, won’t this selectively benefit landowners towing dominant political party lines, as opposed to their counterparts? Or is the Temangalo land saga too old a story to jolt our minds? Sometime in 2008, then ‘super minister’ Amama Mbabazi and his business partner Amos Nzeyi were dragged before a parliamentary probe into the irregular manner in which they sold about 564 acres of their land in Temangalo, for a whooping Ush11bn to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).
It was found, they flouted the public procurement and disposal of public assets laws, besides supposedly inflating the purchase price by several percentage points. Interestingly, the duo, together with then NSSF supervisor, Ezra Suruma, who was the Finance Minister, walked scot-free. Juxtapose that with the Francis Bwengye court case of 2003. It arose when then Water, Lands and Environment Minister Kahinda Otafiire issued a statutory instrument to the effect that the government had taken over Bwengye’s Mutungo hill home. The palatial property nestled onclose to 0.5 hectares overlooking Lake Victoria was valued at close to Ush1bn. At a press conference in 2009, Bwengye lamented that greedy individuals eyeing his home, were hiding behind government’s intention to take it over, in order to install equipment there to surveil the Lord’s Resistance Army Rebels. The home neighbored an External Security Organization (ESO) base.
Even if the government were to genuinely set up a project of national interest, it would be extremely oppressive to, and utterly alienating of its people, taking over private land without upfront suitable payment to those affected. That would be defeating of the very constitutional aspirations of Ugandans, who have hitherto thought they had seen the last of the forces of tyranny, oppression, exploitation, and inequality promoted by the state. Rather, why not think of a win-win proposal? Private property, an essential element of an authentically social and democratic economic policy and it is the guarantee of a correct social order, the Catholic Church teaches us. To that extent, we would expect the government to ensure that among freedoms of persons, the right to private property is also truly respected, to allow for the wellbeing and happiness of it’s people.
That notwithstanding, the right to private property is not absolute, in light of the principle of the universal destination of goods. But, therein is the responsibility for both parties to make sure that neither one impedes the work or development of the other – the owner of land may not hold on to it so as to curtail planned national development, nor should government decline to pay the landowner adequate compensation for the property. Government would rather do well to provide for tribunals and expedited appellate processes to handle land matters and avoid delay. It would further be pro-people if it were concerned about those who are powerless, than to protect the greedy powers within its ranks. After all, as Jefferson observed also, a government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors. Besides, rarely have we seen governments really solve problems, I am beginning to agree with Ronald Reagan. They just reorder them!
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