Sunday, February 22, 2009



20th February, 2009

By Chris Kiwawulo

FORMER finance minister Gerald Sendaula risks losing sh800m he paid for 640 acres of disputed land in Kituntu sub-county, Mpigi district.

Although Sendaula got the land title last month, the man who sold it to him, Hamidu Ssenyonga, has been taken to court for alleged fraudulent transfer of ownership. Lands ministry officials say the title issued to the ex-minister could be reversed if investigations confirm that the transfer was erroneously done.

Ssenyonga, 36, popularly known as Kibuye was on Monday charged with forging land transfer forms, uttering false documents and falsely registering land with intent to defraud. He was dragged to court by Kampala businessman, Faustin Ntambara.

Ssenyonga transferred the title ownership into his name from that of Alexandra Nabukalu in October 2007. But the complainant insists Ssenyonga acquired the title fraudulently.

Ssenyonga, a resident of Kawuku in Wakiso district, appeared before Buganda Road Court magistrate John Wekesa and denied fraud charges. He was released on bail.

Through lawyer Ronald Oine, Ssenyonga last year applied for a court order to block Ntambara from accessing the land, arguing that the latter was trespassing. Ssenyonga presented a title of the land, which he claims he bought from Alexandra Nabukalu who is allegedly now deceased.

On the other hand Ntambara, through lawyer Brian Kabaiza, insists that he is the right owner of the land.

“I bought the land from Alexandra Nabukalu Nabweteme, who is still alive. I paid half of the money and she promised to give me the title for transfer upon completing payment,” stated Ntambara.

The High Court in March 2008 dismissed Ssenyonga’s application for an interim order stopping Ntambara from accessing the land. However, Ssenyonga used Security Group guards to evict Ntambara.

In a February 12 letter, Ahmed Wafuba, the Police officer in-charge of small arms, directed the guards to vacate the land pending the disposition of the court case.

Ntambara suspects that someone in the land titles’ registry must have helped Ssenyonga to forge the title and change it into his names before selling the land to Sendaula.

Before Ssenyonga transferred the land title to Sendaula’s name, Ntambara placed a caveat on the land.

The lands ministry ignored this caveat and processed a transfer for Sendaula, which he got on January 8, 2009, according to records seen by Saturday Vision.

Dennis Obbo, the spokesperson of the lands ministry, said the ministry was investigating the matter. “I have personally looked at the documents and realised that there might have been an error in entry.”

If the ministry’s investigations reveal that there was an error in entry, Obbo stated, the title issued to Sendaula will be recalled and cancelled. “The ministry has powers to cancel any entry made in error,” he added.

Sendaula admitted buying the disputed land from Ssenyonga and acquiring the title, but denied any involvement in the alleged fraudulent transfer of the title. The former minister was shocked to hear that Ssenyonga had been charged with forging land transfer forms.

“Nobody has notified me of the charges against him. If the title was fraudulently transferred, then the lands registry should be held responsible, not me,” he stated. Having used city lawyer Apollo Makubuya to carry out a search for any encumbrances on the land before buying it, Sendaula is surprised to hear that the transfer is being contested as fraudulent. “I even paid through the lawyers.”

Sendaula was also not aware that Ntambara had in March 2008 placed a caveat on the land. “If my lawyers had seen the caveat, they would not have gone ahead with the transfer.”

Sendaula warned that should the title turn out to be fake, he would sue the Government since it is its employees (lands registry) who authorised the transfer.

Sendaula’s experience is not unique. Last year lands ministry officials said they had confiscated over 300 fake land titles.

The ministry also warned that many people unknowingly hold fake land titles having been duped by fraudulent surveyors. Many of the impounded titles were taken to the land office by people who had already bought the land and were trying to transfer the title into their name, Obbo explained.

Others were taken by the fraudsters themselves, in an attempt to test if the counterfeits could pass for genuine titles.

This number, however, is the tip of the iceberg. Obbo says the ministry cannot tell how many fake titles are in circulation, and has therefore warned the public to verify with the land office even when presented with what looks like a genuine original land title.

According to reliable sources, theres is a land title fraud racket involving staff of the lands registry and private surveyors. Some ministry staff are under investigation over the duplication of land titles.

Consequently, the ministry has set up a probe committee to investigate involvement of its staff in land title fraud.


How land title fraud occurs:

Using a photocopy of the original land title, a fraudster can process a fake title and print it out in down-town Kampala on a similar type of paper as the original. They obtain the photocopy from the owner or the land registry.

A fraudster can arrange for the issuance of a duplicate title when the original is still in existence. Usually a duplicate title (special title) is issued only when it is certified that the original was lost. But, through unethical officers, a fraudster may obtain one and go on to use it to sell land for which he is not the registered owner.

A fraudster may forge transfer documents showing that the land title has been transferred into his name when in fact it has not.

The original land title may have been stolen.

The fraudster may fake a land title for land that is not actually available for sale, such as road reserves, wetlands and forests.

How to beat fraudsters:

Visit the land you intend to buy and physically inspect it.

Talk to people in the vicinity of the land in order to confirm that the purported seller is indeed the owner of the land. If there are any disputes, do not buy the land.

Meet the actual owner of the land and not merely his or her purported agent.

Go with the owner of the land or their representative to the land registry office to verify the land in question before you pay any money.

When going to the land registry, insist that the owner carries the original land certificate and not a photocopy. Many of the enhanced features of the land title are not reproduced on the photocopy. If you carry only a photocopy, there will be no way of knowing that the title from which it was copied was genuine.

Hire a registered advocate to do the land transaction on your behalf because it is a technical process. However, do not surrender any original documents to them as this exposes you to fraud.

Insist on verifying the land title with the land registry at the ministry of lands before you pay.

Transfer the title of the land into your name as soon as you purchase the land.
Do the transfer process yourself.