Malawi chiefs gang-up against Customary Land Bill

Traditional chiefs across the country on Tuesday ganged up to petition Parliament, asking it to withdraw Customary Land Bill until through consultations have been done on the issue.

The MPs passed Land Bill and is currently awaiting President Joyce Banda’s signature to be law.

In a petition made available to Nyasa Times, the traditional chiefs led by Senior Chief Lukwa of Kasungu have highlighted areas to be addressed by Parliament before approving the Bill, which includes the proposition of setting up Customary Land Committees, which are believed will only bring confusion.

The petition – signed among others by  Senior Chiefs Lukwa of Kasungu, Mpherembe of Mzimba, Mkanda of Mulanje, Kwataine of Ntcheu and Kachindamoto of Dedza – is as a result of a meeting organized by Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) in order to orient chiefs on the controversial Bill currently scrutinized by Parliament.

Senior Chief Lukwa presenting the petition to MP Belekanyama

Senior Chief Lukwa presenting the petition to MP Belekanyama

The chiefs said were against the idea of leaving Traditional Authorities (T/As) out of the Land Committees to be chaired by Group Village Headmen (GVH), and have since asked for the removal of the proposed committees on fears that it will interfere with current structure.

“The T/As are of the view that there would be a big conflict of power relations between themselves and the GVH if the later will head the Land Committees, since the GVH are appointed by the T/As,” argued the chiefs in the petition.

They have since asked the Parliamentarians to replace the GVH with existing tribunals made of counselors.

Another argument, they raised in the petition is on the role of the GVH in the committees, which they said would be easily compromised in circumstances where they have been suspended due to misconduct.

“Sometimes the GVHs are asked to stop discharging their duties due to misconduct, in such instances, the Land Committees would be idle and not perform to the desirable standards”.

T/A Kachindamoto of Dedza expressed her displeasure with  Land bill, saying this will definitely mean “we don’t need chiefs anymore because when we say ‘Chalo’ we mean the land. How will people call us ‘Chalo’ when we have no powers over land?”

Receiving the petition, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) deputy chief whip, Lingston Belekanyama said  “there are valid points in the petition.”

“The Customary Land Bill (2012) seeks to repeal the Customary Land (Development Act) chapter 59:01 and replace it with new legislation on the management and regulation of customary land as advocated by the National Land Policy.

“The Bill further provides for the creation of committees and tribunals which will be empowered to carry out the function of land allocation, adjudication and management, and settlement of customary land disputes,” reads a memorandum in the introduction of the Bill.

Minister of Lands, Henry Duncan Phoya is on record saying his office would issue a statement on the matter soon.

If the billscomes into law, it means traditional leaders would not be having much power to control land distribution and acquisition in the country.

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