• Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | Weeks into an investigation into the operations of the Uganda Land Commission by parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE), one of those under investigation, Beatrice Nyakaisiki Byenkya, the chairperson of the Uganda Land Commission, has stood by her conduct.

Byenkya was forced out of office in April this year to make way for a probe into several land transactions. Of particular interest is a probe into how 10.6 billion shillings was disbursed to six land claimants, ahead of other existing claims.

The six land claimants and recipients of the USh10.6 billion are Stephen Nagenda, Twaha Lwakaana, Kosia Rwabukurukuru, Namuli Natalia, Julius Busulwa and owners of the Ndeeba Church and Lusanja land.

During her time in office, Byenkya was opposed to disbursing this money to the six claimants, against the insistence of then Lands Minister Beti Kamya.

Ministers Kamya and Namuganza insisted that the six beneficiaries should be considered before other claimants, since they were cleared by the Ministry of Lands following a presidential directive.

Therefore, on March 12, 2021, Kamya requested the Ministry of Finance to make available Shs10.62 billion for ULC to compensate the six land claimants, maintaining the request was authorised by the President.

However, Byenkya says she had not seen the presidential directive, and insists not enough due diligence was carried out before the money was disbursed.

“That USh10.6 billion went to six claimants, and I have said several times and I wish to repeat, that of all six [claimants], it was only one person whom I found as legitimate, and that’s Stephen Nagenda who had a court order,” says Byenkya.

However, Byenkya expressed concern about reports that she declined to sign off on the payments on the grounds that she was unable to obtain a fifty per cent cut from the claimants, which she says is not true.

Geoffrey Mugisa is one of the beneficiaries of the USh10.6 billion supplementary budget who is claiming that officials from ULC asked him for a bribe in order to process his payments.

Mugisa made the claim on Wednesday 08 June 2022, while appearing before COSASE, chaired by Hon Joel Ssenyonyi.

“Someone called Michael Obongomin called me and said I would not get my money just like that. At first, he asked for 20 per cent and then later 50 per cent of the total amount I was supposed to receive for my land,” Mugisa claimed.

Mugisa said he didn’t bow to pressure, but his compensation took a long time. His 208 hectares of land was valued at Ush1.544 billion, for which Mugisa got an advance payment of Ush50 million in 2016, and the outstanding balance of over USh1.4 billion in 2021.

However, the committee put Mugisa under oath as he failed to present documentation on how he got the land title, alongside the inconsistencies in his defence statements. Therefore, the committee tasked Mugisa to return with a written consent from his family who gave him the land and copy of the title.

Hon. Joel Ssenyonyi also tasked Mugisa to provide evidence of the phone number and details of the agent seeking the bribe, his account number where the money was to be paid, and his phone number. Ssenyonyi has given Mugisa till Friday to present the necessary documentation.

On the other hand, Byenkya says that an Honourable Justice had recommended that all Freehold titles that had been awarded on the 208 hectares shouldn’t be considered because they’re fraudulent, and it is solely on these grounds that she took her position.

Standing by her conduct, Byenkya says, “I want to tell the members of the general public that I have never requested for money.”

Byenkya says that people behind the fraudulent titles are district officials, executives and members of the land board. She claims these people would identify big areas of land, then they would make the titles in their names without the people who reside on the land knowing about it, using their influence and knowledge to connive and get the titles in order to get money.

She has been sounding the alarm as far back as March 2020 that government officials are at the centre of grabbing public land across the country.

Speaking to reporters at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala on March 3, 2020, Byenkya who at the time had only been in the position of ULC chairperson for six months, said that government land is under threat from the very people under whose custody it is invested.

“There is this issue of people grabbing government land. Well, it is unfortunate but it is happening and it is an open secret. Government officials are grabbing government land. It is unfortunate but there we are. If the cadres of government are not really walking the line and carrying out the responsibilities as is to keep whatever is in their custody, then what type of people are we? What type of leaders are we because we’re supposed to be leaders by example,” said Byenkya during the 2020 media interview.

Then on 30th September 2021, ULC Chairperson Beatrice Byenkya blew the whistle on ULC officials for engaging in corruption and bribery, citing overpayment of land fund claimants, irregularities on daily handling of taxpayers’ funds given to the entity, bribery of individuals when handling land fund and other business at ULC, fake land titling at ULC, non-compliance with public service rules and regulations, among others.

Byenkya first wrote a letter to the Director of the Bank of Uganda citing fraud in payments from the Land Fund. Then on 2nd October 2021, she wrote to the Director of the Criminal Investigations Directorate of Uganda Police, proposing investigations into officers of the ULC.

As a result of her letters, on October 4th detectives raided the ULC offices in Kampala and arrested four officials.

After Byenkya’s public calls for investigations into the Uganda Land Commission dealings, members of the ULC intern called for Byenkya’s interdiction.

The member’s alleged Byenkya, as the head of the institution, should have resolved the matter internally instead of writing to outside agencies and damaging the reputation of the Commission. Therefore, they called for her interdiction on the grounds of misconduct.

In response to the misconduct allegations, Betty Kamya, who had risen to Inspector General of Government (IGG), ordered for Byenkya’s interdiction from her position as chairperson of the Commission to pave the way for investigations.

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