The New Land Bill, set to be tabled in Parliament this week, has made several concessions on contentious issues, including foreign ownership of land, women’s rights and the role of chiefs in the administration of customary land.
The proposed law comes against the background of government moves to ease fears of various interest groups that forced former president Joyce Banda not to assent to the Bill in 2013.
The Nation has seen a copy of the proposed new law and noted several attempts to clear fears on the previous draft’s lack of provision for women’s land rights and gives chiefs new roles through village land committees (VLCs), which will now include group village heads and traditional authorities (T/As).
On foreigners owning land, there are some major concessions too.
Controller of Lands, Kwame Ngwira, said to prevent the scenario where indigenous Malawians are out priced by rich foreigners, the Bill has moved to regulate the pricing of land apart by making it a requirement for any land sales to be published in newspapers and Malawians given priority.
“However, it has been observed that in practice, the intention of the provision is not achieved because vendors inflate the purchase price to bar Malawian citizens from purchasing the property. In order to address the situation, the Bill has provided that a government valuer should verify published prices before conclusion of the transaction,” 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.
Principal Secretary for Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Ivy Luhanga, expressed hope that the Bill will finally earn national approval and ease many challenges in the sector to boost development and also facilitate trade and investment.
In 2012, then minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Henry Phoya said the Bill will bar all foreign nationals from owning land in the country, but that the Bill would only allow foreigners to access land through lease agreements solely for investment purposes.
The New Land Bill comprises five separate Bills, among them the Land Bill, the Registered Land (Amendment) Bill, the Physical Planning Bill, the Land Survey Bill and the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill.