It has been, and still is, some tough months for Lands, Housing and Urban Development Minister Atupele Muluzi.
Since Parliament passed the four of the 10 land-related Bills in July this year, Atupele and his team at the ministry have been all over selling the importance of the Bills to various stakeholders.
The move, of course, came as a reaction to the tides of opposition that rose against the Bills after they were passed.
You see, there will always be different view-points to every policy or legislative decision government takes.
In fact, for a policy and legislative decision bordering on an emotive issue which is land, the division of thought that sprung after the Bills were passed was expected.
However—as somebody who has reported extensively on land issues and, again, a citizen who has been affected by years of Malawi’s poor land laws—I took it upon myself to study these Bills deeply.
I can rightly confirm here that I am one of the few Malawians, yes very few, who have read and understood these four Bills first before rushing to the streets to demonstrate against them.
In my limited judgement—gauged from my journalistic experience, study of these bills and listening to experts—I can conclude that these four bills do not present the danger that critics want us to believe.
It is interesting, though, to note even the nature of how thoughts have diverged on these Bills.
If you look closely, apart from the debates in Parliament, all the professional bodies—from the legal sector and land sector—have come in full support of the Bill.
I am talking, among others, of the Malawi Law Society (MLS), Surveyors Institute of Malawi (SIM) and the LandNet, a network of land-related non-governmental organisations in the country.
These professional bodies have, in their different ways, issued press statements that have done much to help the public understand the nitty-gritties of these Bills. I am sure most of us have read them.
Then, there have been those that have come out strong against the Bills.
Among those that have come out vocal include: The Livingstonia Synod, social commentator Billy Mayaya, some selected traditional leaders and, if not mistaken, politician-cum medical specialist John Chisi, president of Umodzi Party (UP).
Unlike the professional bodies, what is interesting from the arguments of those in opposition to the Bills has rather been their selective, not comprehensive, approach to them.
They have all, through media interviews (not organised press releases), singled out a particular section of one of the four passed Bills and concluded these Bills pose a danger to Malawians. I wish they were systematic in enlightening Malawians on these Bills. Their approach sounds more as a piece of propaganda.
Interesting, again, has been the division of thoughts among traditional leaders. In 2013, when these Bills were passed by Parliament, chiefs rose up in unison against them, arguing that they take away their power. Today, despite the same provision not having changed, the chiefs are not speaking in unison. What has changed fellow chiefs?
Well, I can go on and on discussing these Bills. However, here is what I have learnt.
In Malawi, where legal illiteracy is compounded by our general dislike of study, we easily rush to comment on substantive issues without, in the first place, taking time and understand them. We need, as a nation, to improve on this—especially those with a voice.
Further, on sector specific issues such as land legislations, it is important that professional bodies are given space to lead, underline lead, the nation in these debates. This helps to build an informed view.
Finally, let me congratulate Atupele and his team for the tireless job they have had selling these Bills. Though reactionally, I think the minister has scored better in explaining the Bills to the larger public. As someone who has attended one of these awareness meetings, it was refreshing to see the minister respond to every question raised with sobriety and, again, where he found it necessary, he could delegate people in his team to take it. That is leader, Mr Muluzi. You, indeed, are making sense of these bills. It is my prayer that President Peter Mutharika will assent to these bills. We need them now!