The Minister of Information, Communications Technology and Civil Education has thrown some light upon the recent controversial Land Laws issue which sparked outrage between the government and the people of the nation.
In her statement, the Minister said the Land Laws will empower chiefs and the people of Malawi. (Read the full statement below).
The recent budget sitting passed land administration related bills which have raised controversy and at times outright misinformation. The Minister of Information, Communications Technology and Civic Education, PATRICIA KALIATI, provides some insights into the pieces of legislation and other related matters.
1. Could you mention the land related Bills that have been passed during the recent Budget meeting of the National Assembly?
The land related Bills that have been passed include the following:
• Land Bill (Principle Land Bill)
• Physical Planning Bill
• Land Survey Bill; and
• Customary Land Bill
Once assented to, the land bill will replace the current Land Act, while the Land Survey Bill and the Physical Planning Bill will replace the Land Survey Act and the Town and Country Planning Act, respectively. The Customary Land Bill will repeal the Customary Land (Development) Act and Local Land Board Act.
2. Are there similar Bills that are yet to be tackled by the National Assembly?
Yes, there are some additional land related Bills yet to be passed by the National Assembly.
• The Registered Land (Amendment) Bill;
• The Lands Acquisition Bill;
• The Local Government (Amendment) Bill;
• The Public Roads (Amendment) Bill;
• The Malawi Housing Corporation (Amendment) Bill; and
• The Forestry (Amendment) Bill.
3. Could you explain why each of these pieces of legislation (already passed or proposed) is important?
Members of the public may wish to know that in 2002 Government approved the Malawi National Land Policy whose main goals are:
• To improve access to land by Malawians including youths and women
• To improve tenure security through creation and registration of customary estates
• To improve sustainable use of land and land based resources for socio-economic development
For the aspirations to be realized, the existing Legal framework had to be reviewed, hence the ten land related Bills.
4. How will these reforms to the land legal framework benefit the people of Malawi?
The people of Malawi will benefit in terms of having improved tenure security through the creation of customary estates, and acquisition of land through land communities in a transparent and accountable manner.
The role of the chiefs in land administration and management has been fully recognized through the Bills, as all land acquisition will have to be approved by them. A map will be produced to show clearly the extent of land owned by each Traditional Authority.
For the dispute resolutions, there will be tribunals established at each Traditional Authority level and district level before a matter is referred to the courts.
In order to improve rural settlement, the whole Malawi is being designated a planning area where new settlements will have to follow the planning guidelines for sustainable land use.
5. The just passed Customary Land Act has caused controversy. Critics claim Government wants the poor to start paying fees for the land they have owned all along. What is the truth of the matter?
The interpretation of the provision relating to payment of fees in the customary Land Bill is that these will only be applicable on the granting of a customary estate. Those reading the Act must be able to distinguish between Customary land and Customary Estate. Both terminologies have been clearly defined in the Bill and Customary Estate must not be confused with Customary Estate.
Customary Land only becomes Customary Estate when the applicant has satisfied the conditions set out in Section 27 of the Act. One of those conditions is a fee. These are transactional fees, which will be very minimal and meant to support transactions after the initial registration, which will be free. It is important to point out that nowhere in the Bill does it state that Customary Land will attract fees. It is important to read the Bills in their entirety and the Bills are interrelated. Customary Land registration will only be possible once the Registered Land Bill is approved by Parliament. Registration will be discretionary.
6. Further, critics claim that Government does not want to tackle the problems of Estate owners, for instance, tea growers, who own vast pieces of land and yet the same Government want the poor to pay taxes or fees for owning land? Can you explain this?
The Principle Land Bill has provided that no more freehold land will be granted to both foreigners and locals. However, government has maintained freehold tenure to individuals who already have such land in order to respect the constitutional provision under Section 209. Government plans to introduce land tax to all freehold land owners which will include owners of tea estates.
With Regards to the second part of the question it must be mentioned that poor people will not be required to pay taxes or fees for owning land. As it has been highlighted above, initial registration of customary estates, which will confer ownership of the land to the people, will be done for free.
7. Claims have also been made that foreigners are favoured over the local Malawians when it comes to sales of land by Government? What do you say to this?
The mandate of the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development is to ensure equal access to land for all. It should be clarified from the outset that Government does not sell public land, it just leases out such type of land. The owners of the land sell various types of land. Government just facilitates the transfer of the land by issuing relevant consents based on the existing laws. For example, some foreigners acquire land mainly for investment purposes. In most cases, Government liaises with the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (MITC) to identify genuine investors.
In the principle land Bill, there is a provision that land will be allocated directly to MITC who will be mandated to issue derivative rights to investors. Government will set land ceilings based on nature of investment and locality of the land. This will ensure that investors both local and foreign should only access land, which will be used for the intended purpose. This will further discourage people from acquiring land for speculative purposes.
Government will now be terminating leases where the lessees (people leasing the land) do not comply with terms and conditions such as failure to develop the land within the required period.
8. How is Government tackling the issue of corruption where it concerns matters relating to land administration? Or are these mere allegations?
There are indeed allegations of corruption relating to land administration and management. However, what government requires is evidence to enable it take necessary action by reporting either to the ministry responsible or to the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Where such has been the case, necessary action has been taken against the officers. The Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development has an Anti-Corruption Policy, which is currently being implemented by the Integrity Committee with support from the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Further to what I have just said the other problem is related to perceptions of corruption especially under Customary Land where land was sold and government granting leases of land to persons and organizations from outside with little or no consultation with the local community. With the new law this will be greatly minimized with the community having a say with regards to ALL land transactions in their area.
9. How does Government intend to raise public awareness among the people on these land administration reforms?
Government already has developed an Implementation Plan, which includes communication strategy. The plan is to have messages in English and vernacular languages. Already there is a Land Governance Technical Working Group (LGTWG) on land governance, which is working on this programme. The membership of the LGTWG includes government, supporting partners and civil society organizations.