Inside Malawi Land Bill: Law society says approval is legal despite opposition boycott

Opposition parliamentarians on Tuesday morning stormed out of parliament in protest against some clauses in a Land bill but this move proved imprudent as the government easily passed the bill without any challenge.

Empty opposition benches after they all walked out of Parliament

Empty opposition benches after they all walked out of Parliament

The opposition legislators and the government were at each other’s throat since parliament started sitting at 9:30 am.

The opposition wanted to insert some clauses and sections and remove some clauses.

But the government side, led by Lands, Housing and Urban Development Atupele Muluzi and the government front bench refused to be bulldozed by the opposition MPs.

This led to shouts, heckling, name calling as the House was reduced to a kindergrten school.

In the heat of this, the opposition decided to walk out of the 193 strong House leaving the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and its political bedfellows, the United Democratic Front and independent MPs.

This prompted the government to hurriedly pass the bill with the assistance of Second Deputy Speaker Clement Chiwaya who was chairing the seating.

Law Society of Malawi chairman John Suzi Banda said the passing of the bill in the absence of the opposition was binding.

“We had the same situation some years ago and the opposition went to court but the court said the passing of the bill was legal,” said Banda.

The clauses which the opposition wanted to add and in some cases remove were of no much significance but of significance is the decision by the opposition to abandon their role in parliament.

Leader of the House George Chaponda said the government could not allow that the opposition wanted to force the government amend the law inorder to bring back colonial land law clauses.

Minister of Lands, Muluzi said there is an attempt by government to address the issue of “landlessness” and also to ensure that there is greater access to different groups that would like to own land in this country.

“ We have also attempted in the past to address the issue of providing land to some of our civil servants and we will continue to do that,” said Muluzi.

Serious challenge

Werani Chilenga, the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Joint Committe  which looked at the Land Bill told Parliament that it provides for two categories of land in Malawi – Public Land classified either as government land and private land classified as freehold, leasehold or customary estate.

He said his  committee felt the classification presents a “serious challenge” to current Malawian set up since much land is customary and recommended that a third category; Customary Land be included in the bill.

“Mr Speaker, Sir, the bill also provides that; freehold land acquired by a person who is not a citizen of Malawi prior to the commencement of this Act shall be converted to leasehold interest unless the person currently in possession of such land shall have acquired Malawian citizenship in accordance with the Malawian Citizenship Act within a period of three years of commencement of the Act. The Committee holds the opinion that Freehold Land should not be allocated to any person whether they are Malawians or foreigners. All freehold title holders currently enjoying that status should convert the title to leasehold upon enactment of this bill into law and whereas freehold land will become obsolete,” Chilenga said.

He said members believe that there should be adequate procedures in place to safeguard land in this country in the sole interest of all Malawians.

“We need to institute adequate measures to stop the wanton abuse of buying land by non-Malawian citizens.  We, therefore, recommend that the Minister should be empowered to stop its sale of land in situations where he or she feels Malawians will be put to a disadvantage,” he said.

Chilenga said his committee proposed that the Land Bill should provide for the creation of a National Land Council or Board to take up some of the powers and functions of the Minister and Commissioner, saying Parliament should vet and appoint respective members of the board taking into consideration issues of gender parity.

Retrogressive

Chilenga said the bill provides for monetary compensation for people whose land has been earmarked for investment or national projects.

The Committee, however, pointed out that monetary compensation is “retrogressive” in the long run.

“Often times the little funds people are paid as compensation are prone to abuse and do little to cater for their loss of land for the family. This leaves them destitute and prone to food insecurity for the rest of their lives,” he said.

The Committee, therefore, recommended that the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Trade and Tourism should consider making appropriate amendments to the Companies Act with the view of addressing the issue of compensation for the betterment of Malawians.

Mining land

The bill also makes provisions for the designation of land to be used to carry out mining activities of any natural resources in the country.

It does not, however, provide for the rightful provision of proceeds from the business ventures to the inherent owners of the land.

The Committee proposed that a clause to be inserted into the bill to ensure that the owners of the land should have the right to benefit from proceeds of any economic undertaking of the land at a percentage to be determined by the regulations made by the Minister.

Gender

Chilenga said MPs wanted the bill to take into full account of all principles of equality, non-discrimination and affirmative action.

They noted with concern that gender considerations have not been fully spelt out in the creation of all land committees and tribunals at both local and central levels and noted that language used in the bill is not completely gendered.

He said his committee recognised the fact that this bill will change the landscape of the Malawian context and proposed  for the inclusion of a specific clause to ensure that the relevant Minister conducts wide spread civic awareness campaigns on this Act and related laws through traditional leaders and civil society.

In her comment  chairperson of women parliamentary caucus, Jessie Kabwila noted that : Malawians are failing to compete because the playing field on land at the moment is “actually skilled against them.”

“If our land policy actually encourages them and rewards citizenship in terms of ownership and access, the truth of the matter is that most Malawians will own land,” she said.

Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) said t e way things are, Malawians are failing to compete because the playing field on land at the moment is actually skilled against them.

“Most of them are finding that they cannot compete and they end up not being able to own the land that they are supposed to,” he said.

Section 5(2)(b) of the Customary Land Bill now provides for women representation in the allocation of customary land through creation of customary estate while landlessness, another old concern, is addressed through Section 36 of Customary Land Bill as well which empowers government to redistribute some land to poor people who do not own any.

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2 thoughts on “Inside Malawi Land Bill: Law society says approval is legal despite opposition boycott”

  1. C Banda says:

    After the opposition stormed out, did a quorum of MPs remain to legally pass the bill? If a quorum did not remain, then the Judiciary can block the bill from becoming law, and even if it is enacted, gazetted and so on then it will have to be – what? – repealed.

  2. CONCERNED CITIZEN says:

    Most countries have land boards that administer land affairs district by district. In Malawi, we delayed in implementing land regulatuions soon after attaining independence. Tatsalira kutali in many areas hence, the problems.

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