Last month, Parliament amended six of the 10 land related laws enacted in 2016 in line with the National Land Policy of 2002. This brings to mind the dramatic lawmaking of 2012 to 2013 when regime change left new laws up for repeal. Is Parliament enacting regime-specific laws? Our Staff Writer SUZGO CHITETE engages Minister of Lands Sam Kawale on this question and others. Excerpts:
Q: What has necessitated these amendments barely five years since these laws became operational?
A: There were issues that made these laws difficult to implement. People did not just accept them due to some issues that were ignored at the time the laws were enacted. So, we have made these amendments to have laws that will speak to the wishes of most Malawians.
Q: Would you share some of the areas which led to low public acceptability of the 2016 land-related laws?
A: We are talking about six Bills and two of them had some provisions which caused a lot of public discomfort.
The first Bill is the Land Bill on how we should manage the land. The biggest issue was to do with foreigners buying land in Malawi and not putting it to productive use. We had to ensure that we understand what Malawians want and come up with the law that speaks to their wishes. In the amended Act, the only time a foreigner will have access to land is when they are an investor and not just owning land to build a house or shop. That is not going to happen. We have dealt away with that.
The other question is what about those foreigners who already have land? We have also sorted out this one. Once their lease expires, we are not going to renew it.
Q: Don’t you run a risk where someone will claim to be an investor and use the land for other purposes unrelated to the envisaged investment?
A: We are not talking about someone building a house or shop for car spare parts and call that investment. An investor will have to meet a criteria set by the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (Mitc). Land will only be allocated to investors who satisfy the conditions.
Q: What amendments have you made to the Customary Land law, which generated great public interest and controversy in 2016 when Mzimba chiefs distanced themselves from it?
A: This is indeed the second most popular law. We have retained customary land. We are going to have customary land in Malawi and that will be owned by traditional leaders. What we are now doing is to help traditional leaders put good mechanisms for them to manage that land. So, we are having land management committees that will be at village and traditional authority (T/A) level. These committees, some of their functions will be to make sure that every person who has a piece of land should be given a piece of paper to identify that they own the land.
Now, this is different from a title deed. This is just a document or certificate to show that they know who owns the land and the chief will head that committee. These records will be at both village and T/A levels. So, we have given power back to the chief and people themselves and we are also helping them manage this land properly through well-established structures to make sure there is no chaos.
Q: Mzimba Heritage Association and chiefs once petitioned your office and the President over Customary Land law. How have you addressed their grievances in the amendment?
A: Yes, the amended Customary Land Bill has taken on board all concerns across the country regardless of tribes because the management of land has been left in the hands of local structures. We are just helping those structures manage lands better.
Q: What do the other amendments intend to achieve?
A: We have the Land Survey Bill, which is taking on board the new technology in land surveying and provides clarity on the role of the surveyor general. We are also regulating the profession to ensure there is maximum quality control on the data that surveyors collect. We are also introducing a criteria for licensing surveyors in Malawi with an interest to promote professionalism.
The Physical Planning Bill mainly clarifies the roles of the commissioner of physical planning. Under this law, there is an introduction to planning committees at different levels to ensure that when it comes to development activities, there is order and adherence to laws and regulations.
On Registered Land Act, the emphasis is on procedure to register land.
The Land Acquisition and Compensation Bill addresses the issue of fair compensation to people whose land may be taken away for other purposes. We have seen institutions taking advantage of Malawians on compensation. We hope this law will address this.
Q: Over the years, we have noticed that physical planning has been an issue. Construction has been haphazard. Does this amendment respond to this?
A: That is exactly what this amendment intends to achieve. We have seen those anomalies. We may have the law, but enforcement has been an issue and the amended Bill is addressing those gaps.
Q: The amended laws have been in force just for about six years. Are we not having another set of regime-based laws that may be up for review when the Lazarus Chakwera administration is no longer in power?
A: Mind you, when these laws were approved in 2016, there was public outcry. The laws were rushed and the administration made last minute changes which ignored popular voices. This is why these laws met resistance. We ignored some serious concerns. If you noticed the debate in the house was so smooth and that confirms that the amendments made are popular. Our leadership, from 2016, stayed true to its position that these laws needed to take on board people’s concerns and this is why President Chakwera, in October 2020, made a directive that these should be amended to respond to popular wish.