UGANDA, Acholi | Real Muloodi News | The Constitutional Court has ruled that the practice of leasing de-gazetted land and former public land by the district land boards is unconstitutional.
The ruling also stated that the de-gazetted land, which used to be owned by any customary owners, clan, or community in the Acholi Sub-region, reverts to the original customary owners under Customary Tenure System, where such ownership is proved.
The decision was reached by a unanimous decision of the court, with five justices holding that the practice of administering and leasing de-gazetted lands and former public lands by the district land boards, except for the land that arises in terms of reversion from leases formerly granted to noncitizens or land which is proved by evidence to be land owned by anybody or authority, contravenes and is inconsistent with Article 237 (1) and (3) of the constitution.
Justice Christopher Madrama, who wrote the lead judgment on February 20 2023, said, “However, I would not nullify any leases which have been granted without having heard the beneficiaries of the lease, and any grievances relating to the grant of any lease shall be handled by the High Court, which will consider all relevant factors.”
The petitioners were retired Supreme Court Judge Galdino Okello Moro, retired Bishop of Kitgum Diocese Macelod Baker Ochola, Livingstone Okello, Rosalaba Oyaa, and Center for Public Interest Law. The respondents included the Attorney General and the land boards of Agago, Amuru, Gulu, Kitgum, Lamwo, Nwoya, Omoro, and Pader districts.
The petitioners had argued that the 1995 Constitution returned all the land to the citizens, which was to be owned under the tenure systems provided for in the said Constitution. They claimed that the Acholi land reverted to the communities and that the presidential directive of leasing the Aswa Ranch land to private entities and people was wrong.
“The actions of the 2nd to 9th respondent district land boards of the Acholi sub region in administering de-gazetted land and former public land under the Public Lands Act 1969 in Acholi Sub-region, that since 1995 is held as Customary Land Tenure in perpetuity, is inconsistent with the customary land and propriety rights thereof as guaranteed under articles 2 (1) & (2), 26 (1) & (2), and 237 (1) & (3) of the constitution,” the petitioners stated.
The justices held that since the petition concerned a matter of great public interest geared towards the interpretation of the law affecting land ownership under systems of customary tenure affecting many regions in Uganda, they asked each party to bear its costs.
This ruling will have significant implications for landowners in Uganda, as it affects the administration and leasing of de-gazetted land and former public land by district land boards.
Under the Customary Tenure System, the original customary owners will now regain ownership of their land if such ownership can be proven.
The ruling emphasises the importance of upholding customary land tenure rights in Uganda and serves as a reminder to all involved parties that they must adhere to the provisions of the constitution to ensure the protection of citizens’ land rights.
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