Saturday, May 04, 2013

(STICKY) Land worries

By Editor
Thu 02 May 2013, 14:00 CAT

COMMENT - I think this editorial is a little shallow. The idea that land redistribution can be replaced by land tenure reform is without merit and without historical evidence. You cannot give poor people right to sell land. Also, as 90% of all startups fail - usually due to lack of capitalisation - you would be merely handing land over to the banks. Zambia needs a well funded land reform program, that builds up small farmers as the backbone of agriculture, which they already are. They need capital, just like all entrepreneurs. And that is where taxing the mines comes in. I want to hear the PF government talk a lot more about why they are not heavily taxing or owning an asset that already belongs to the Zambian people - copper. - MrK

The worries expressed by Livingstone Catholic Diocese Bishop Raymond Mpezele over our country's land policy, system of land tenure and the process of land alienation are understandable.

There are serious problems with our land policies. These are generating many anxieties. And anxieties of the men and women of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted in any way, should be the anxieties of their genuine and caring leaders, political, religious and otherwise.

Bishop Mpezele says he is worried by the acquisition of land by investors on long-term lease at the expense of Zambians. He says access to land is a major means of production for rural people but its acquisition is being threatened by privatisation. Bishop Mpezele says this is why, as a diocese, they would like to be part of the national effort aimed at addressing poverty levels of our people through initiatives such as land empowerment strategy. And this would guarantee people's rights to land and its utilisation.

Bishop Mpezele says the Church would be failing in its work of evangelisation if it failed in addressing the needs of the human person.

Zambia has abundant land resources. And there is no good reason why most of our people should have no reasonable access to land. Most of this land is very fertile and suitable for agriculture, but millions of people in Zambia have no access to this land. Denied access to land is still one of Zambia's major constraints to economic development.

Unlike in other countries, our people's lack of reasonable access to land is not because there is a shortage of land. There is plenty of land in Zambia to satisfy the needs of everyone. What appears to be a shortage is due to inefficient policies and methods of land ownership, its management and utilisation.

Government policies appear to be the main obstacle towards access to land and its efficient utilisation. This seems to be because the policies, laws and regulations governing the system are not clear enough to both the general public and the institutions involved. And as Bishop Mpezele correctly observes, very few of our people appreciate the right to own land.

Land is a very important asset. For the poor, it is even more important. Since the poor have no means of livelihood, they depend on land to support and nourish their lives. It is primarily for this reason that land policies, administration and management should not go wrong. If it becomes difficult for people to acquire land, they may die. This should be avoided because life is valuable. It is therefore important that the policies that we put in place to regulate the ownership, use and management of land are based on the clear need to ensure the equitable distribution of this resource.

We need to bear in mind the fact that land administration systems are not static; they are responsive to changes in society. And as such, they should be modified, redefined or structured in response to many factors such as population growth and density, conflict of interest or changes in the political and economic organisation of our society. Land law reform in Zambia is an urgent necessity.

The right to access land needs to be guaranteed in the Bill of Rights because of its importance to the sustenance of life. In order to ensure effective rights, this must be there. Without this, it will not be easy to protect land from abuse. Land dealings should be a constitutional matter. The Constitution should guarantee the right of access to and ownership of land by Zambians.

There is need of integrating Zambia's land policy framework into wider processes. A land policy strategy or framework is needed that links integrations in the land sector clearly to the broader poverty agenda, establishes clear priorities based on broader national goals and a careful consideration of tradeoffs and links with other policies involved and commands political support from the majority of the population.

It cannot be denied that the current land legal framework is not totally in tune or in line with what is on the ground, that is the demands and needs of the people.

The current land Act has some harmful effects which, among other things, marginalise the already disempowered, the poor and peasant farmers. And the land issue should therefore be perceived as one of human rights and constitutional concerns. This time around, we should do things differently and correct mistakes of the past. Some of the problems we are facing on the land issue are as a result of really not having sat down as a nation to draw our own land laws. We have been applying various land laws hastily assembled or picked from other jurisdictions with very little relevance to the situation here. For instance, the 1995 land Act repeated most of the 1985 principles designed to smoothen the way for the acquisition of land by foreigners.

This was done at the expense of the local people, who lack the power and the means to assert their rights and interests. Many people have been evicted to give way to foreigners and transnational corporations. This has been compounded by the fact that the land Act of 1995 clearly prefers the title deed to customary land holding. The Act makes provision for conversion of land from customary to title-based ownership. But there is no equivalent provision for converting leasehold land to customary land, even for land that may originally have been customary land. This is so because there is a belief that the customary land system is an inefficient way of owning land and the most efficient way is by title deed or to own land in the Western way. But is this true? Certainly not.

Customary land holding can be as efficient as title land provided a necessary environment exists. However, the question is how can customary land be an efficient way of holding land when there is no security of tenure and people cannot use this land to raise loans from banks? It is true there is no security of tenure in customary areas but this is the modern security of tenure.

A customary security of tenure exists to protect those who hold customary land and since the law recognises this, it is as secure as any other. As for the attitude of banks, it is because the government has not convinced banks to find a way of using customary land as collateral. In other countries, they do use this land in spite of the lack of title deeds. Moreover, in volatile economies such as ours, a title deed is not a sure way of accessing bank and other loans. Many people that have tried to raise money this way have ended up losing their land to banks and creditors due to the unfavourable economic situation. In other words, contrary to widespread belief, a title deed is not a magical word out of economic and social ills.

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