Government Officials Accused of Land Grabbing in Central Forest Reserve

Namyoya Central Forest Reserve
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Government Authorities Face Scrutiny Over Land Titles in Namyoya Central Forest Reserve

In a concerning revelation, individuals, including government officials, are said to have obtained 140 freehold land titles from the Namyoya Central Forest Reserve, which is now under investigation by the Lands ministry. This forest, located in the central district of Mukono, is declared a public forest reserve according to the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act.

Amid mounting concerns over decreasing forest cover in the country, the Lands ministry initiated an investigation that uncovered the creation of nearly 140 freehold titles within the Namyoya Central Forest Reserve. This revelation led to the temporary closure of the Mukono lands office in August, facilitating an investigation by the State House Anti-Corruption Unit. This move was prompted by allegations of corruption, the issuance of fraudulent land titles, and the existence of double-titled land.

A dossier seen by Saturday Monitor contains a request from Mr. Sam Mayanja, the junior Lands minister, urging the State House Anti-Corruption Unit to expand its inquiry into the Mukono lands office, focusing on how individuals acquired freehold land titles within the Namyoya Central Forest Reserve.

The titles found in the dossier share common characteristics, with manual creation and fraudulent entries into the Mukono land office system. This unusual practice is attributed to the fact that all land offices currently operate an automated system, and manual titles are no longer being produced. The titles are subsequently entered into the Land Information System (LIS), which is digitalized.

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What adds to the suspicion is that these titles lack supporting documents such as area committee reports, land board minutes, and Uganda Revenue Authority tax payment proofs. Some of them are registered in fictitious names and companies.

On Kyaggwe Block 535, situated within the forest reserve, prominent individuals such as Moses Kigongo, the NRM Vice Chairman, and Kania Obiga, the junior Urban Development minister, have secured land holdings. However, Minister Mayanja has questioned the legitimacy of a freehold title covering 189.157 hectares registered in the names of David Tumusiime Amooti and Moses Atworeke, asserting that it was falsely created manually, despite covering over 400 acres of land used by institutions like schools, hospitals, and churches.

Another questionable title is registered under volume 1603, folio 24, and covers an area of 192.043 hectares in the names of Gipson Nsiimire and Jona Ainemababazi. Similarly, it was created manually but entered into the system, occupying land used by schools, hospitals, and churches.

The third title in question is a freehold title registered under volume 1605, folio 03, covering 523.640 hectares and registered in the name of Peter Mukisa Mutale. Once again, this title was manually created and entered into the system, covering land fully occupied by various institutions.

The State House Anti-Corruption Unit has confirmed receiving the dossier and is in the process of examining the documents. Namyoya Central Forest Reserve, originally measuring 900 hectares, has been subject to encroachment over the years, with less than 400 hectares remaining intact. This issue has led to discussions about degazetting the central forest reserve, advocated by Mukono Municipality lawmaker Ms. Betty Nambooze.

Section 16 of the Act outlines the process for reclassification, which requires a written request from a local community, local council, or interested individual, seeking reclassification of a central forest reserve. The Water and Environment minister must respond within 180 days, either refusing or allowing the request. In arguments before the Mukono Municipality Council, Ms. Nambooze made a case for degazetting the land, emphasizing the need to consider the growing population.

The proposal to degazette the forest reserve was met with opposition from the Water and Environment ministry, which deemed the request baseless. The depletion of the forest has been linked to widespread corruption within the Mukono lands office, leading Minister Mayanja to request the removal of Doreen Tumushabe, the Mukono land boss, until investigations are concluded.

However, an internal memo defending Ms. Tumushabe argued that she had organized the Mukono land office effectively, but the whistleblower’s identity remains anonymous. The memo praised her efforts to regulate brokers and district staff who were allegedly involved in fraudulent activities.

According to the documents provided to the State House Anti-Corruption Unit, the whistleblower alleged that Peter Wasswa Bakayimbudde, purportedly an agent of President Museveni’s brother Gen Salim Saleh, was at the center of the troubles in the Mukono lands office. Bakayimbudde’s appointment as a land officer raised concerns, as he allegedly refused to accept several postings and continued to work in Mukono.

Bakayimbudde is accused of working for a group referred to as the “mafia,” aiming to remove PAS Tumushabe, who was seen as an obstacle to their objectives. The whistleblower claimed that Bakayimbudde registered numerous certificates of title and sold them to the Uganda Land Commission to seek compensation from the Uganda Land fund.

The whistleblower also alleged that Bakayimbudde produced a leasehold certificate of title through forged minutes, which was later sold to Metro Pharmaceuticals Limited for land in Kampala district. In a letter dated August 1, 2023, the Secretary of KLDB confirmed the absence of any record of transactions on the land in question.

Minister Mayanja asserted that there is sufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges in court, urging the Anti-Corruption Court to take action. The information presented is considered valuable and vital in bringing those responsible to justice.

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