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New Bill Proposes Compulsory Acquisition of Monuments in Danger of Destruction

Rose Mwanja, the Commissioner for Museums and Monuments, says that the bill has been work in progress since 2019 and was in February 2022 presented and passed by the cabinet. She says that the bill generally seeks to ensure the preservation of cultural and monumental items in the country for education and tourism purposes.

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The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities has drafted a bill, which proposes the compulsory acquisition of privately owned historical monuments that are in danger of destruction. Drafted by the directorate of Museums and Monuments, the  Museums and Monuments Bill aims to among others develop, manage and maintain museums and monuments and to formalize, control and protect tangible and intangible heritage and works of art collection.

Section 27 of the draft bill provides that "Where a monument is in danger of being destroyed, the Directorate may compulsorily acquire the monument in accordance with article 26(2) of the Constitution." Section 26 (2) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda states that no person shall be compulsorily deprived of property or any interest in or right over property of any description except where the taking of possession or acquisition is necessary for public use or in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health.

The section further states that the compulsory acquisition of property is made under a law, which makes provision for prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation prior to the takeover or acquisition of the property. It also guarantees the right of access to a court of law by any person who has an interest or right over the property.

Rose Mwanja, the Commissioner for Museums and Monuments, says that the bill has been work in progress since 2019 and was in February 2022 presented and passed by the cabinet.  She says that the bill generally seeks to ensure the preservation of cultural and monumental items in the country for education and tourism purposes. 

Mwanja has written to the Parliament asking that all Members of Parliament submit names of historical sites and monuments in their areas for inclusion in the bill as preserved sites and monuments. She says that so far as a ministry, they have a list of over 30 sites including historical buildings that are to be gazetted as part of the bill.

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The Historical Monuments Act 1968 mandates the Minister for Tourism to declare a site or object preserved based on their observation or recommendation of the Directorate of Museums and Monuments. 

Both the current law and the proposed bill recognize private ownership of historical sites and objects but the bill makes proposals to ensure that privately owned heritage and monumental sites and objects are well preserved. Section 24 of the proposed law provides for Compulsory repair orders in case a heritage value or site has been neglected into disrepair. 

The Directorate of Museums may by statutory order cause the owner or responsible body to repair the heritage value or site. The bill gives 21 days to the holder of the heritage value to apply for an extension of time or appeal to the minister against the repair order if they fail to repair the object or site as instructed. Upon failure, the bill proposes, that the directorate undertakes the repairs and recovers the costs from the owner or holding body of the heritage or historical site.

However, Commissioner Mwanja emphasized that government intends to empower private owners to preserve these sites and objects. She says after the bill has been completed and passed by parliament, the Ministry shall engage with other stakeholders like Kampala Capital City Authority- KCCA to introduce a policy where private owners of historical sites are given incentives to help them preserve and maintain the sites in a desirable fashion.

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In May 1968, the Historical Monuments Act was enacted to provide for the preservation and protection of historical monuments and objects of archaeological, paleontological, ethnographical and traditional interest and for other matters connected to that.

However, the law was limited in guidance on how to deal with historical sites and objects in private hands. Commissioner Mwanja says that the new bill also seeks to regulate the establishment of private museums and the protection and preservation of objects in those museums. 

She says that although there are a few private museums, there were no clear guidelines on how they should operate and were not registered and formally known to the Ministry. The proposed bill requires private individuals and institutions running private museums to get permits from the Ministry and preserve the objects in the museums. She also says that the bill provides for the establishment of regional museums. 

There are currently three regional museums, in Moroto, Soroti and Kabale but these are not reflected in the law since they were opened decades after the enactment of the law. Mwanja says the bill is intended to protect Uganda's heritage, avoid trafficking of items and promote Uganda’s museums locally and internationally.

Fredrick Nsibambi, the Deputy Executive Director of the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda has read the bill and appreciates it for being inclusive with provisions that seek to address several challenges that Uganda has been facing in the preservation of its cultural heritage and historical sites. He is hopeful that the law shall enhance efforts to preserve historical sites and monuments.

He however cautioned that the law shall only make an impact if it's implemented and enforced non-discriminatorily. He says the problem has often been that laws are drafted but not respected or enforced by the authorities. Nsibambi says that for Uganda to effectively protect preserved heritage value sites and objects, there should be bi-laws enacted by local government and hence enforced by the same.

The bill comes at a time when Kampala Capital City Authority-KCCA, Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities and Watoto Church Limited are in disagreement over the proposed demolition of the Watoto building historically known as Norman Gordino cinema and entertainment centre. The building is admired for its unique architectural design prominent in the interior.

Although the government wants Watoto Church to be developed only after owners have agreed on what aspects of the building shall be maintained to preserve the historical building, the owners say this is a private property whose owner chooses how to develop following laid building standards.