Debate continues on the directive issued by H.E President Yoweri Museveni in a letter dated February 28, 2022 and titled “SUPPORT TOWARDS ON-GOING EFFORTS AGAINST ILLEGAL LAND EVICTIONS AND TRANSACTIONS” addressed to the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Robinah Nabbanja.
In the letter, the President stated: “No eviction should be allowed to take place in a district without the District Security Committee (DSC), chaired by the Resident District Commissioners /Resident City Commissioners (RDCs/RCCs), meeting, looking and consulting directly the Minister of Lands.”
A notable reaction to the directive is that issued by Uganda Law Society (ULS) president, Counsel Pheona Nabaasa Wall last Friday, March 11, 2022. ULS opines that:
“The directive to obtain consent from the District Security Committee (DSC) for an eviction when a court order has been issued heavily undermines the independence and the effectiveness of the Judiciary. This practice will amount to vesting the right to hear, resolve and execute disputes in the hands of the security organs which usurps the power of the Judiciary.”
This concern by ULS is noted. However, there is no cause for alarm. There is no way that notifying and obtaining consent from DSCs undermines the independence and effectiveness of the Courts. There is no room for interference with the judicial process because the DSC is only involved after court has issued orders. Its role is to ensure that the eviction process is flawless and orderly and that all interested parties are aware and involved.
Previously, disputes or violence have broken out because Courts issue orders that are executed arbitrarily without engaging all parties in the process. Many a time, the presiding judges or magistrates do not visit the locus to establish facts on the ground. This loophole has been used by unscrupulous people to obtain favourable rulings using forged documents and deception such as the presence of tenants on the land in question, and their numbers.
While the Courts enjoy sole powers to adjudicate matters of any nature, they don’t work in isolation. They work with other arms of the state and the general public to dispense of justice. This link should be strengthened to completely remove cases of illegal evictions and legal evictions that have been executed badly, leading to more disputes, violence, bloodshed and even death.
ULS notes that police is currently involved in the execution of land evictions to provide security and ensure the enforcement of court orders. While that is true, there are many instances where police is neither notified, nor involved in enforcement of eviction orders. Landlords sometimes choose to skip this procedure because they have acquired eviction rights dubiously using money. They use private security guards and kanyamas (powerfully built bouncers) who ruthlessly enforce their orders. Even judicial officers have been victims of such practices and there are many complaints received by State House. Such practices are a menace to society. It is high time they are stamped out completely.
Individual police personnel may also be compromised or fail to appreciate the breadth of the matter, but the DSC, composed of a representative from Prisons, the District Police Commander (DPC), District Internal Security Officer (DISO), a UPDF representative who is the Intelligence Officer, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Town Clerk, Mayor and Resident State Attorney (RSA) is better placed to guide the process. It removes powers from the hands of a few individuals who can and have been abusing such powers, ensuring that evictions ensue in the most orderly and satisfactory way possible.
Land is a highly sensitive and valuable asset. It is a factor of production and the basis of human existence and development. But it is also inelastic. In the face of an ever expanding population, it is ever more on demand. This has caused prices to skyrocket and given rise to fraudulent acts as some people strive to secure free land or at a nominal cost, to the disadvantage of others. The landless are victims but can also become offenders-by trespassing on other people’s land and making claim to it. Whichever the case, sanity has to prevail. Land transactions and evictions should both be streamlined in public interest and to facilitate faster national development and preserve stability.
The President’s directive also seeks to cure outstanding sources of conflict between mailo land owners and bibanja owners. The overall relationship between the two parties needs to improve to prevent a crisis with potentially explosive implications on the fabric of society. If court processes are streamlined and harmonised with the administrative and security arms in the districts, landlords will have their claims fully authenticated while at the same time interests of squatters will be taken care of.
All in all, everybody should be happy because only lawful evictions will be permitted since DSCs will act to ensure that due procedure is followed in executing them.
The concerned officials should, therefore, expeditiously follow through with the President’s directive confident that it is fully in compliance with the law, respectful of the independence of the Judiciary, takes consideration of legitimate interests of all parties and the duty of the state to enforce law and order.
Moreover, the President, in his directive, co-opted His Lordship the Chief Justice to raise these issues with the bench he leads so that the officers do due diligence before issuing orders.
The author is the Deputy Presidential Press Secretary