By: Lloyd M’bwana
The country’s grouping of non-organization organization on land issues, Land Net Malawi has expressed dismay over the Malawi government decision to reject the much awaited land bill tabling in the current Parliament seating describing the move a total betrayal and incompetency on part of those drafting the bill for failing to rectify the inconsistencies in time.
This is the second time government has changed heart on important bill after last week made similar decision by backtracking the much touted Access to Information Bill (ATI) which several local and international organization has demanded explanations as to why the bill could not be tabled in the current Parliament proceeding though President Peter Mutharika promised in his state of nation address that his administration would table the bill in on going national assembly meeting.
Over the weekend, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Samuel Tembenu was reportedly quoted in the local press that the land bill with other related bills including customary land , physical planning bills among others will were removed from the Order Paper over sticky issues which needed thorough scrutiny before its table to avoid inconsistencies.
“It won’t appear in the on the order paper because we are still looking at the land bills. A promise was indeed made that the bill would be tabled; we will keep that later because the fact is that we haven’t completed looking at the bills. We need to complete looking at them carefully before tabling. What’s the point when we rush something to Parliament, when it’s not fully completed?
“The bills cover a lot. There is the customary Land Act, Land Act and several bills which have issues inside which are inter-related therefore we have to make sure that there is no inconsistency in the bills including ownership and how to dispose the land which were major concerns before that are needed to be looked into before tabling in Parliament”, justifies Minister Tembenu.
But in an exclusive interview with the Maravi Post on Tuesday, November 24, Emmanuel Mlaka Land Net Malawi’s National Coordinator described government’s change of heart on the land bill as a betrayal to poor Malawians who are currently subjected to land grabs due to lack of proper laws to protect them.
Mlaka accused government of double standards and incompetency on part of land officers who were drafting the bill saying they have failed Malawians their dully rights of being protected from misguided individuals who have advanced selfish agendas than that of Malawians.
“We consider the excuse given by the Minister as a lame excuse. It does not make sense for them to be scrutinizing these issues only now when submissions were made in June 2013 and also re-submissions in November 2014 (12 months ago). We feel the government is casually handling an explosive matter which can even result into civil unrest.
“This just shows that someone in one of the two Ministries; lands and Justice is incompetent to articulate all three times submissions on contentious issues on the land bill. Surprisingly, government has been playing hide and seek games, and avoiding civil society that we be ambushed when the bill is brought to Parliament.
“Our appeal is for government to engage Civil Society, especially those who made the submissions and agree or achieve a consensus and make sure the Bills are in parliament next seating without further excuses”, urges Mlaka.
However, prior to the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs assurance that the Land bill would be table in the current seating, Land Net Malawi submitted an audit report on the bill for consideration of other issues which are still contentious.
“We have also noted that revisions on compulsory acquisition of land, compensation, fiscal transparency have not been made as suggested in the review report. Other recommendations in the review report pertaining to drafting style have been addressed.
“The Land Bill 2015 and the Customary Land Bill 2015 have gone through various revisions since the drafts were prepared by the Law Commission. The review report on these bills highlighted a number of issues to be incorporated. The first concern is that the Land Bill should have been more comprehensive as a basic land law than it is. This concern has not been addressed and it is rather late to insist on this at the moment”, reads part of the audit report review on Land bill.
The review noted that the definitions and nature of customary land, customary law, customary estate, freehold land, traditional land management area, among others were confusing and affected a number of key provisions in the draft bills. Many of the definitions have been addressed, except that of traditional land management area. However the roles and functions of the customary land committee remain unclear; this is because though responsible for customary land, they are also given responsibility over customary estates, which are private land.
“The review report proposed that land be categorized into Public Land and Customary Land so that private land becomes a sub category of the two categories just like government land is a sub category of public land. The revised drafts have maintained the categories proposed in the Land Bill 2013, and we propose this be changed, considering the ramifications on the nature of customary land which has become much more government controlled than it has been.
“Finally, we have proposed that the composition and establishment of the customary land committees under section 5 of the Customary Land Bill 2015 should follow those of the customary land tribunal under section 44 of the Customary Land Bill 2015 so that they are established at traditional authority level and are appointed rather than elected as provided for under section 5 of the Customary Land Bill 2015”, concludes the audit report review on the land bill.
After the Land bill was successfully passed into the law by Malawi Parliament in 2013, the former President Joyce Banda failed to assent it into law due to protests from chiefs, women activists describing it as the way of dealing with chiefs in administering land as the case in Tanzania while on women sides, the bill was discriminatory towards women and children in accessing land resources which needed further consultations before it was passed into the law.