By Mike Ssegawa
President Museveni will next week visit Soroti town to calm tempers boiling over the pending eviction of about 15 households who are hampering the completion of the ninth public university.
Soroti University which is taking in its first in-take this academic year, faces another delay in opening if squatters occupying its land don’t vacate.
The issue however has taken a political twists with politicians in Soroti with personal interests in the land occupied by squatters have turned the heat on the University Secretary accusing her of wanting to evict residents without compensation.
This website has however learned that the University has offered the said squatter an opportunity to be valued by the government valuer but only four accepted the offer. The four have since been paid off.
However, 11 households have refused to accept the offer on the incitement of local politicians. On hearing this development, an angry Museveni said it was wrong in the first place to compensate people who occupy government land illegally. Mr Museveni has recently made it clear that he does not want taxpayers money to be spent on people who occupying government land.
Soroti University which got about 228 hectares from Teso College of Higher Education, discovered squatters on the land after they obtained the land title.
The University is in the final stages of completion after it was built from scratch, to give it a modern touch, however, local politicians are inciting locals to refuse to vacate land which belongs to the university, frustrating some of the last projects of the institution before it opens.
The university secretary of Soroti University Ms Ruth Acimo, who has also been pivotal in the construction work, said the university was willing to value and compensate the squatters despite the land behind government owned.
However, some residents have pressure from Soroti politicians after they sold land to them but used it all.
The rationale of the politicians is to take advantage of the proximity of their properties to the university to put up commercial projects tapping into the university economy.
However, the university is stuck with the households who say if they take the money, and refund the politicians, they will be left with nothing to resettle themselves since they have already spent what they were paid. So, they have one option to keep on the land.
The solicitor general has given Soroti University a go ahead to remove any impediments on the government land, but the squatters with support from politicians interested in the said land took the university to court, and the grade one magistrate Grace Wakooli In March slapped an injunction on the university activities on the contested land.
According to the university plan, the contested plots 50 and 51 are at the edge of the area playgrounds should be erected.
The contractor time is running and should be handing over the university soon, but cannot do so with some projects such as playgrounds not completed. Yet, anything that extends the contractor’s time fetches penalties in costs.
The contractors say, they cannot put their expensive machinery to excavate in a risky areas and wants Soroti University to sort out the mess or offer protection before they can do so.
Unfortunately, the vested interests of the local politicians have made it difficult for this progress.
President Museveni, according to our sources, has told university bosses to go ahead and evict these people before a security fence is raised around the land that covered over 228 hectares.
Nyene Juma Hassan the university communication officer says four families have been paid by the university and they still have to deal with 11 households.
However he said no squatter has been evicted from the land owned by Soroti University despite a long standing land row between the institution and the locals.
He explained that reports that Ms Acimo had brought people to evict locals were baseless, and that the excitement just exposed innocent workers of Simpio Tech who had come to put up a fence in some areas as well as building some bridges in the university campus.
The university bursar Edward Obere said so far Sh11 billion has been spent on the construction of the public university and in the coming months, sh7.4 billion will be spent to complete the facility.
Ms Acimo assured the public that the 100 students who have sent to Soroti University will start their academic year.
Soroti University, which occupies land formerly owned by Teso College of Higher Education, will start with 40 students reading medicine, 30 for nursing and 30 computer science. These students were allocated by government for the upcoming academic year, starting August to October.