This week city businessman Sudhir Ruparelia appeared before a parliamentary committee probing the loss of land belonging to public schools to public developers.
Ruparelia was answering allegations that he had grabbed the playing fields of Kololo SS. He argued that he had got a lease for the said land to develop it in to a better sport facility for the benefit of everybody not only for his Kampala Parents School.
There have been other instances of public lands beig taken over, not only from schools but from police stations, hospitals and stadiums.
To begin with if anyone is to acquire public lands this should be done in a transparent and legal way with all the right permits signed off and fees paid.
That being said, it makes sense that land wherever it is should be used optimally, that is to its full potential for the economic and social gain of the society...
This clamour for land by developers is actually a response to the growing needs of the city for office, residential and even manufacturing space. The city’s plans and zoning laws have clearly not kept up with developments.
For instance the major police stations marked the outer boundaries of the city before independence.
So Jinja road police station marked the eastern boundary, Wandegeya Police station the northern boundary, Katwe Police station on the southern boundary and Natete Police station on the western side .
However the city has overrun these boundaries. Not a problem in itself, but it means that these police stations are occupying valuable real estate and while not discounting the importance of security, this real estate can be better utilised by the private sector for economic gain.
The same can be said for many other public institutions, which have vast expanses of land in and around the city center.
A rezoning of the city land use and insistence that land is used or surrendered, would do a lot to minimise or even stop the instances of land grabbing.
And it is not that there are no private land owners that developers can go to for their needs.
Private land owners their appetites whetted by the jump in property prices a few years ago, but unable to muster the resources to develop their properties are keeping their lands idle or underutilised, holding out for a better price.
This is not only a waste of finite resources, a distortion of the market dynamics, but is also unfair to the general society, which is deprived of the economic activity that may come with developing the land.
It is clear what the leaders of Kampala need to do. Rezone the city. Provide for the relocation of schools, police stations and other public utilities further outside the city....
So for example if someone wanted Kololo SS lands for development of office space or residential apartments they should be able to approach the ministry or school pledge to relocate the school at their cost and take over the land. Of course there would be clearly defined rules for how this is done so that no one is short changed.
Of course, there are sentimental reasons why Kololo SS or even Kampala Parents Primary School should remain where they are, but from an economic point of view, it’s probably better that they move to more marginal land so that the full value of the underlying land is extracted.
Besides it would not be the healthiest environment for young people to spend three quarters of their year amidst the urban pollution from rising traffic and industrial fumes.