LAND4The market for land collapsed long ago. And it collapsed because the govt messed up with the incentive structures. Actually several things are happening simultaneously in the land sector. The land bill Act of 1998 or 1997 offered full insurance to land squatters/bibanja holders/and so called bonafide land tenants (read land grabbers). I equate land to insurance. Once the laws was passed things fell a part literally. There has never been order/certainity in the land sector ever since. I invite you to wonder why it is that insurance firms discriminate on the basis of age, gender, and even race.

For some strange/stupid reason the cabinet of Uganda wanted to treat every one in the land sector the same. Actually tenants were treated better than mailo land owners which in the insurance industry would be like treating young male better than middle aged women drivers. In other words, the land bill should have taken into consideration quality. Quality of land/location/size etc but also quality in terms of ownership.

To privilege the tenant/bonafide tenant over the mailo land owner was the biggest mistake the bill made. It may be the case that tenant/bibanja holders have groups that represent them but not mailo land owners because the regime hates them even as the big men in the regime have become the largest land holders in Uganda not by birth, but through land grabbing, okay blackmail purchases. Anyone who cares to know knows that the President Museveni is now the largest land holder in Uganda (that is why he and the twatera embuddu clique eschewed efficient tools such as land taxation). The consequences are there for all to see: the opposite has happened to the land sector. The order the bill wanted to introduce is now no more. Truth of the matter is tat the land sector is characterized by chaos and uncertainty.

That chaos and uncertainty has led to the second problem: multiple land titles. Mailo land owners have the original copy which by law-gazette notice -has never been annulled. The crooks with the right connections have duplicate copies. Mark you, the ministry of lands is a den of thieves who create land titles for the NRMO crowd. under such an environment, land buyers can never be sure that the land they are buying belongs to the person selling it in the first place. That is where the lemon problem comes in.

What you saw the IGP doing is the equivalent of what buyers of second hand vehicles in the West do: demand a certificate from govt licensed garage to verify that indeed the car is not a lemon. It is costly. With the crime levels in Uganda, the IGP is now in the business of verifying land titles. How did things get to that level?

Things will get worse not better. I suspect that as Kony terrorized parts of northern Uganda, some ‘bonafide’ tenants may have taken over people’s land. Mark you the Land Act does not take such developments into consideration. If someone takes over your land and can prove that they have been on that land since 1986 (notice the cut off year) for 10 years, they can invoke the law to protect them.

Basically, the Land Act assumes that if you let -never mind whether you were aware or not-someone on your land for 10, you are deemed to have slept on your rights and therefore out of luck. The bonafide tenants has all the rights to be issued land titles.

The insight I want to emphasize on you is that if NRMO really wanted to create efficient land use in Uganda, BUT it should have used taxation. All holders of mailo land holders/other forms of land would be subject to a land tax. It would have served multiple goals. a) it is more efficient than the current land Act. b) there would be no such uncertainty with regards to land titles and therefore minimal chaos in the land sector. C) It would have been more equitable in the end. The logic is that you tax heavily something you do not like(NRMO hates land owner).. Those unable to pay the tax on the expansive land would sell to return portions they can afford to pay the tax on. It is possible the govt could have generated bilions in taxes since land can’t be hidden to vade taxes.. I told why taxation was not considered: it would hit the new kids on the land block.

As Justice Wendel Holmes famously observed, taxes is what people pay for civilization. YKM wanted to avoid land taxes for personal reasons and created the current chaos in the land sector. Similarly, he hoodwinked Ugandans when he abolished the only taxes most people paid so today they have no voice. How can Ugandans complain that YKM is hiring only his relatives when they pay no taxes? If they want that voice they have no choice but pay taxes.

Let the embattled land holders counter YKM’s land reform with a proposal to be taxed instead on their land holders. NRMO would then have to explain why a revenue starved nation would leave money on the table. As they say kyoyagala kikusezza (sp)/you pay dearly for what you treasure. Imagine if the land holders were to call a national press conference and announce that they are willing to be taxed on their land holdings. Things would interesting would they?

This the what Akerlof talked about. the land market is full of lemons hence the uncertainty. No one can be certain of the land title they hold. It has now become so costly to a level where the IGP checks land titles. The picture of IGP with scared Katoto checking land titles said it all: the land market is Uganda is no more. that is the uncertainty Akerlof talked about. The govt offices are responsible for the lemon business. No one can be sure of the land titles they hold. Former Finances ministers are not pared and so is NSSF. I will summarize the Akerlof paper with concrete Ugandan examples very soon.




One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Eddy,

    I feel this Art. is misleading as it circumvents the gist and intention of the Land Act in view. Nonetheless, I would argue the vulnerable Ugandan rich, foreign investors or whoever intend use land for production to refrain from land purchasing but resort to leasing. In no way will someone turn against you well knowing that you will vacate his land in a few years. In a country like China, people don’t own land but they are able to use it by way of leasing and they are very rich. The bitter truth is that those you are calling “land grabbers” genuinely bought the land but the reverse is true. If we don’t interpret our laws in their truthfulness, am afraid; we cast a dent on our morals and on the glory of Uganda!

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