The vast majority of Ugandans celebrated when the ruling NRM caucus in Parliament sitting in State House Entebbe voted to throw out the unpopular amendment to Article 26 of the Constitution that gives land owners priority over land.
Little did they know that their chairman President Yoweri Museveni had a different view and would do anything in his power to ensure that the MPs change their positions with the view to passing the amendment.
Over the past couple of days, President Museveni has mounted a determined campaign to sell his plan to the population as a way to convince Parliament to change the Constitutional provision on PRIOR and ADEQUATE compensation for the land owner for the government takes it over.
The new provision provides that government would take possession of private land for implementing its projects by paying the owners a value determined by the government valuer and if any dispute arises, the aggrieved party goes to court.
Some of the fundamental factors behind the opposition to the amendment is corruption that has characterised recent procurement in government projects.
The President’s effort have not only attracted condemnation from across the population, but they have been labelled unconstitutional and downright illegal.
Some of President Museveni’s supporters argue that the exorbitant fees demanded by land owners in compensation continue to frustrate government projects.
Museveni’s hard push for the Constitutional amendments come ahead of advanced plans to produce and export crude oil from the Bunyoro. Two months ago, President Museveni was in Tanzania where he signed a Memorandum of Understanding with President John Pombe Magufuli to expedite the construction of the 1400km pipeline from Buseruka in Bunyoro to Tanga port.
President Magufuli is expected in Uganda this week to concretise these plans. Museveni’s is understood to be trying to avoid escalation of costs for the pipeline through exorbitant compensation, but also to avoid delays in the project.
Government is planning to ensure that the crude oil export pipeline is finished in a period of 5 years.
Museveni probably calmed people’s fears this week when he said that the current amendment only target major and specific infrastructure projects such as the Pipeline, the Standard Gauge Railway and energy projects.
The proposed Standard Gauge railway will also need considerable chunks of land from Malaba to Kampala. SGR officials revealed to The Sunrise that the railway project will affect some 32 schools and 11 factories along its path.
Achievement of these major projects would be impossible under the current legal regime on land as government would face a mountain of court cases and endless delays over compensation values.
He dismissed claims that even ‘smaller’ projects such as schools, police barracks or administration blocks would fall in the same category. These assurances however, would need Ugandans to remember that President Museveni has kept changing his position on a number of sticky issues including the controversial age limit at which someone should context the presidency.
The sense of determination displayed by the president in recent weeks, coupled with his majority advantage in Parliament suggest that passing the amendment is a foregone conclusion.