Business came to a standstill in the National Assembly yesterday morning after opposition members of Parliament (MPs) walked out in protest at government’s decision to leave out proposed amendments to the newly passed Land Bill.
The opposition argued that some of the amendments will strip chiefs of their authority over land.
During committee stage of the Land Bill, the chairperson, Blantyre City South East MP Victor White Mbewe (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP), was rebuked several times by opposition legislators for not taking into consideration their input.
It was observed that when questions were posed on whether some amendments should be adopted, the majority of MPs would respond in the affirmative ‘yes’ only to discover later that the question was asked wrongly and that they should have answered ‘no’.
Briefing journalists after the walk-out, leader of Opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera said government had already made a decision on the Land Bill; hence, their voices could not be heard.
He said: “Two of the outstanding amendments tackled customary land and freehold land which make up three percent of total land. Now we are saying freehold land must be leased out for at least 99 years so that we also make something out of it given the prevailing economic challenges the country is going through.
“And on customary land, we are saying it must remain as it is, and not change it to customary estates. In that way, we would be stripping chiefs of the authority they have on land and further making Malawians not to own land which is very bad.”
Chairperson of the joint committee on land issues, which looked at about 10 components of the land-related bills, Chitipa South MP Werani Chilenga (People’s Party-PP), announced during a heated debate that he had withdrawn the amendments and the reports.
His decision left the House in disarray as business—debate development or moving to other components of the land-related Bills—could not be undertaken.
First Deputy Speaker Esther Mcheka-Chilenje said the decision put the House in a dilemma as Standing Orders stipulate that in the absence of the chair, debate cannot be curtailed and that the National Assembly cannot move to the committee stage.
She said: “But if he [the chair] can delegate and handover the reports to the House, we can move on.”
The situation was worsened by the fact that the chair of the joint committees on land-related Bills, which comprised 99 members, had not delegated deputy chair Paul Chibingu (Mwanza West MP, Democratic Progressive Party-DPP).
Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Atupele Muluzi, who was accused of playing games with the opposition, maintained that freehold land should be leased out.
He said: “I tried to explain to them [opposition], but sometimes we have to agree to disagree. Nobody is providing a solution and this is what we are saying.
“I have a duty as a minister to point out on a clause which is not in conformity and I have to defend it. The minute we amend, it would be challenged in court and nullified, so what is the point of passing it here? After all, this is only three percent, which is already contributing to the economy of the country.”