Electronic transfers

Minister, officials admit corruption to land office

By Derrick Kiyonga

In a sign of growing pressure from the Simbamanyo House sales saga, the Minister of State for Lands on Monday warned his officials to immediately end the widespread corruption and fraud reported to the Land office or to be sacked .
Mr Sam Mayanja, who summoned staff to the ministry’s boardroom at 10:30 am, warned them to end the dual title and make multiple entries on the same land title. He also ordered them to stop rapid transfers of land titles without giving the parties concerned a chance to be heard.
The minister’s stern warnings follow two separate letters President Museveni wrote to Bank of Uganda (BoU) Governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile and Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka. Multiple sources in Cabinet also indicated that the president addressed the issue to his ministers.
Mr. Museveni’s letter instructed the BoU governor and the attorney general to examine how Simbamanyo House and Afrique Suites were sold at very low prices, and to get back to him within a week of the date of issue of his letter.
Last year, Equity Bank seized Simbamanyo House in Kampala and Afrique Suites Hotel on the outskirts of the city after Mr. Peter Kamya and his Simbamanyo Estates failed to repay outstanding loans to the tune of $ 10.8 million. dollars (about 40 billion shillings).
In a letter dated September 3 to Tumusiime-Mutebile, President Museveni wrote: “Mr. Peter Kamya and Dr. Margaret Muganwa have requested my intervention in the cases concerning the sale of Simbamanyo House and Afrique Suites by Equity Bank. They state that while the Bank of Uganda has ordered that there should be no foreclosure of properties mortgaged by banks during the Covid-19 pandemic, Equity Bank has gone ahead and sold their properties to very low prices. That they even offered to have their own buyers, but all their attempts were frustrated.

But BoU, through its communications director, Ms Charity Mugumya, said this week that their investigations into the matter were ongoing.
In his letter to Mr. Kiwanuka, Mr. Museveni said legally, the gist of the couple’s complaint is that their properties were sold while there were cases pending in court and without a court order.
“This is to order you to urgently investigate the case and give a legal opinion within a week,” Museveni ordered Kiwanuka.
When asked if his harsh words were forced by Mr Museveni’s letters, Mr Mayanja said Sibamanyo’s standoff was eye-opening.
“A lot has happened in the ministry [of Lands, Housing and Urban Development], but the fact that the president is interested in the sale of Simbamanyo made me meet the staff and tell them frankly to change their ways or to take drastic measures, ”warned Mr. Mayanja.
“I am a lawyer and I know a lot about land issues and when I was appointed to this ministry I knew I was going to join the most corrupt ministry and now I have seen it with my own eyes. Corruption here is visible to everyone, ”he said.
Mr Mayanja, who took office just three months ago, said he had already faced countless land fraud complaints.
He said he called the meeting to have “an honest and frank conversation” with his staff about why corruption continues to plague the ministry.
Mr Mayanja has warned that he has decided to fire officials at the ministry’s headquarters in Kampala, but changed his mind at the last minute after “wide consultations” to give his staff a fair hearing.
The meeting was attended by Acting Land Registry Commissioner John Karuhanga, Under Secretary Richard Juuko, Survey and Mapping Commissioner Wilson Ogaro, spokesperson Denis Obbo and other junior land registrars.
The minister warned: “People come here on weekends to do transactions while others are away. Do you want to have good careers? because I wanted to fire people, but I also thought about the reputation of people and their families. But why can’t you do the right thing?
“With the computerized system; how can there be a double titling? Asked Mr. Mayanja, referring to Uganda’s Land Information System (LIS).
“The other day a lady came to me to complain about the way the entries were made on her title.”
In response, a staff member told Mr Mayanja that the computerized system had only stopped new cases of double-titration. “The double titration cases we are facing are the old ones and the (LIS) system is not complete, we have to use it fully if the double titration problems are to stop,” he said.
Mr Mayanja also wondered how some land transfers for the privileged are done in a fraction of a second, while other transfers for the common people take years.
“There is the case of the Kakungulu estate where the land was subdivided into 1,000 plots and land titles were issued in no time. Can you imagine that and all of these things being done by people in this meeting? He said as the ministry staff fell silent.
Mr Mayanja also criticized what he called the haste applied when Simbamanyo House, formerly owned by magnate Kamya, was transferred on behalf of a Kampala businessman.
“Maybe you don’t know it, but behind the scenes was a legal adviser to Mr. Kamya,” said Mr. Mayanja, one of the founding partners of Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA).
Junior Minister of Lands, Sam Mayanja. PHOTO / FILE
He said that by the time the first court ruled, within hours, Simbamanyo was owned by someone else. “Why don’t you give people the opportunity to appeal first? The man almost committed suicide. I had to advise him. Why do such things happen quickly while others are slow? ”
“If you are unsure of certain things, why can’t you consult? Why are you hurrying? You could cause death, ”Mayanja warned.
When he finally invited the staff to express their views, Mr. Karuhanga admitted the corruption within the ministry. “Those who bring money make sure the whole chain gets a share; so it becomes very difficult to reject the money, ”he said.
One of the registrars blamed the questionable land deals on the politicians who put pressure on them. “We get phone calls from powerful people; some are ministers who tell us to do this or do that, ”he said.
“How can a junior officer reject such orders?” Politicians have become a big problem for us, but it is we who are to blame, ”he said.
Another registrar said registrars are unfairly blamed every time a land deal goes awry. “Even if it is a surveyor who is mistaken or a cartographer is to blame, everyone blames the registrar, yet we are not competent to survey, assess [land] or mapping. We are only at the end. ”
But Mr. Mayanja said: “You [registrars] are blamed because you are supposed to make sure everything is in order before the transaction goes through. The land titles bear your signature. This is why we must be careful. Mr. Ogaro attributed the unchecked corruption in the ministry to the low salaries of ministry staff.
“If you pay 1.5 million shillings to land agents while they are processing billions of shillings transactions, what do you expect from them? ” he said.
“The ministry only received 0.1% of the national budget, how do you plan to eliminate corruption and improve services with such a budget? ”
A female staff member said that even though they serve people honestly, they have already been convicted of corruption. “People believe that the system cannot work without corruption. This is why they keep asking brokers to work for them and they believe these brokers are part of the ministry. This is why the belief that we are corrupt does not go away.
Mr. Mayanja insisted that among the reforms he wants to see in the Ugandan land system, there are rules that will eliminate land brokers.
“You see a lot of people outside,” he said, gesturing to the window. “They don’t work here, but they are there. They are brokers and I want to get them out of our system. People should be able to trade without going through brokers because they get a lot of money from people and yet they don’t work for the department.
In an attempt to stem corruption, Mayanja told his staff that he was advised to go and fire everyone at the Wakiso Land Office, which has gained a reputation as the epicenter of the land fraud.
But Mr. Dennis Obbo, the ministry spokesperson, who admitted the meeting with the minister had taken place, sought to play down the minister’s harsh rhetoric when contacted for comment.
“To my knowledge, this was an internal meeting where the minister met with the clerks to understand the challenges facing the department. But it wasn’t about corruption per se, ”he told Sunday Monitor in a telephone interview.
In 2018, following a public outcry, security agents from the State House’s anti-corruption unit raided the land registry in the country’s busiest Wakiso district and gathered surveyors, land agents and brokers. The team led by Colonel Edith Nakalema seized the electronic gadgets of land officers and their clients who came to process land titles.
“Before taking such steps, I decided to talk to you first. I think you want to work and it is only after having understood you and drawn up a working document that I will take certain measures, ”warned Mr. Mayanja.

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