There was hullaballoo after it emerged that about 900 acres of public land belonging to the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) at Namulonge had been doled out to Premier Roses Limited by government officials.
While critics pointed out that the land is being actively used for research purposes, ministers said their decision was in line with the government policy of supporting investors. The investor, on his part, outlined the potential benefits of his plans, adding that he had followed all procedures.
Everyone who has had a say in this matter could be right; what is needed is perspective. For instance, there is no denying that Ugandan needs public land for activities such as research.
However, there is also no denying that Uganda needs investors – who need land to execute their ideas. And there is no denying either that a lot of public land across the country is currently idle or underutilised.
Therefore, allocation of public land to investors per se shouldn’t be a problem. The problem is that such allocations appear to be arbitrary at the moment. Streamlining is paramount.
The government must first identify and outline its investment priorities. Lay out in black and white the strategic areas where it wants investors in their order of importance.
The government can then source land from its own reserves or even from private owners to give to interested investors as part of the incentives regime necessary to attract the right investors to the right sectors.
Such prospective investors should have signed MoUs aligning their projects with government policies. This is more or less what the government did with palm oil growers in Kalangala district.
Alternatively, the government body in charge of public land – Uganda Land Commission – can identify idle or underutilised land that can be put at the investors’ disposal and invite bidders to express interest in a transparent process.
At the end of the day, Uganda needs both public land for public use, but also investors to put idle or underutilised land to more productive use, which leads to more employment and growth of the economy. Surely, we can find a good balance between these two national interests!