The High Court has curtailed the powers of the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters, which is headed by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire. In a landmark ruling, Justice Andrew Bashaija said the land probe commission should not interfere with court orders or decisions on land matters that have already been concluded through court processes.
The judge also ruled that the Inspector General of Government (IGG) should steer clear of court orders and judgments. The story Justice Bashaija, who is the head of the Land Division of the High Court, made the ruling following an application by Pastor Daniel Walugembe, challenging the order issued by Bamugemereire’s commission stopping the Uganda Land Commission(ULC) from paying him over sh2.5b in compensation.
The land commission issued the order when it was investigating the operations of the Land Fund early this year. The commission queried the manner in which Walugembe acquired the land for which he was claiming compensation. It instead ordered that ULC pay the money to the original owners of the land in question, not Walugembe.
The land in issue is comprised in Buyaga Block 161 Plot 4,Buyaga Block 305 Plot 2, Bugangaizi Block 136 Plot 1 and Buyaga Block 318 Plot2. It is also comprised in Kyaggwe Block 358 Plot 2. A debt to pay Walugembe had planned to use the money to clear a sh3.7b debt he owed to American Procurement Company Inc. (AMPROC), owned by Kampala businessman Dr Robert Mwesigwa. Walugembe borrowed the money from Mwesigwa, promising that he would pay back the debt after getting the compensation from ULC.
He, however, did not pay back the debt in time, prompting Mwesigwa to drag him to court. Subsequently, it was agreed that AMPROC be paid a total of sh3,764,575,000 by ULC, that was compensation for Walugembe’s land comprised in Bugangaizi Block 62 Plot 3; Buyaga Block 123, Plot 1 and BuyagaBlock 296,Plot 2.
Before ULC could pay the compensation, the Bamugemereire commission received complaints from some claimants alleging that Walugembe fraudulently acquired their land in Kibaale for which he was claiming compensation. The commission ordered ULC and the finance ministry not to pay the money to Walugembe, but to the original landlords.
In his ruling,Justice Bashaija said by ordering payment to persons other than the one ordered by court, the Bamugemereire Commission acted illegally. In a November 30, 2018 ruling, Bashaija stopped officials from the finance ministry, ULC and any other government departments from implementing the recommendations, decisions or orders of the Bamugemereire commission. The claimants are said to have sold their interests in the property.
The court ruled that the payments for the land in issue should be made to American Procurement Company Inc. that originally sued Walugembe for the recovery of the money.
“It cannot be overemphasized that the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters has no mandate whatsoever to issue orders contrary to court orders or judgments over the same matter,” Bashaija stated.
“The Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters is not a court of law. By ordering payments to persons other than the one ordered by court, it overstepped its mandate and as such acted illegally,”
he added. He said the Bamugemereire commission’s order
“invariably interferes with the independence of the Judiciary” and, therefore, “it cannot reasonably be left to stand”.
“A permanent injunction doth issue restraining any government department or official or any commission of inquiry from interfering with compensation as directed by court relating to land in issue or any other plot of land which is a subject of a court judgment or order,” the judgment reads.
In the court case, Walugembe sued the Attorney General and both the Bamugemereire Commission and the IGG were not party to the case. The Attorney General’s defence was, however, found fatally defective. The affidavit sworn by state attorney Allan Mukama, that was submitted as part of theAttorney General’s defense, was rejected as he was not an employee of the Bamugemereire commission or the IGG and did not disclose the source of his information.
Another affidavit belatedly sworn by the land probe commission’s secretary, Dr Douglas Singiza, was rejected because it was time-barred.
“Dr Singiza’s affidavit is a vain attempt to cure the fatal defect and it is of no evidential value,” the judgement reads.