Relevant government agencies face a race against time to review land-related laws during the next meeting of Parliament as directed by President Lazarus Chakwera last October. However, experts have since warned against rushing through the process.
During his appearance before Parliament to answer questions from legislators on October 21 2020, the President directed that the new land laws, in force for barely three years, be reviewed and have bills presented during the next meeting of Parliament.
The next meeting of Parliament, the Mid-Year Budget Review, is due in February.
But officials we spoke to from ministries of Lands and Justice as well as Malawi Law Commission, who are familiar with law-making processes, indicated how difficult it may be to have bills ready for the next meeting of Parliament, especially for “sensitive laws” like these ones.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is currently seeking views from interest groups and the public on land laws.
In a letter dated December 23 2020 to 26 non-governmental organisations, MHRC is requesting for submission of views by January 6 2021 addressing three questions.
A communication signed by MHRC executive secretary Habiba Osman reads: “What are the key issues affecting land governance in Malawi? What specific sections or provisions in the current land laws is your organisation recommending for review? What new provisions to the current land laws is your organisation proposing to be added to facilitate proper management and administration of land laws in Malawi?”
In a telephone interview on Saturday, MHRC director of economic and social cultural rights Makhumbo Munthali, who is in-charge of the exercise, admitted that even the commission was in a race against time to prepare and present its position paper to government by January 18 2021.
He said they received a request from Ministry of Lands to seek public opinion and their deadline was initially put on December 28 2020, but sought extension to January 18 to have ample time to engage people and analyse issues.
Munthali said the President’s directive was welcome, but appealed for more time, saying rushing through the process may affect the consultation process and compromise the quality of the bill.
A senior official in the Ministry of Lands also confided how pressured they are to have the consultations done as soon as possible and consolidate findings before presenting the same to Ministry of Justice to have bills drafted.
Said the official: “These laws have only been in operation for just about three years. We have been piloting five key laws and the pilot project is yet to be over, but the directive means that we have to stop the exercise and present what we have observed to the land law review committee. We needed more time to test these laws and draw proper lessons.”
Another source in Ministry of Justice said the review process is politically-influenced to have the new administration’s interest reflected in the law, and not necessarily because the laws have gaps.
The official said government had been consulting since 2003 and reports at Malawi Law Commission have lists of those who attended.
The Land Law Review Committee in the Ministry of Lands, which is responsible for the land law review process, refused to give us the progress on the review.
Minister of Lands Kezzie Msukwa said his ministry sought clarity from the President and learnt that he meant the Budget Meeting of Parliament and not the one coming up in February.
The minister said several stakeholders raised concerns with the laws when they were enacted in 2016; hence, the new administration intends to address those concerns in the review process.
“The President means well. He is just responding to concerns that were raised by the public and those will have to be addressed in the review. Don’t mind about time, if the time is not enough we shall seek for extension because the ultimate goal is to have laws that represent the interest of the people,” said Msukwa.
University of Malawi Chancellor College dean of law Chikosa Banda said there is nothing wrong in having the laws reviewed within three years of implementation, saying it is part of the policy circle.
He said he could also not fault Parliament for failure to scrutinise the land laws, saying the review is a result of lack of wider consultation.
Banda said this time around government should be serious and do honest consultations that take into consideration people’s interest and views.
In 2016 government, after what it called wider consultations, enacted 10 land-related laws which were envisaged to improve land administration in the country. The laws included customary land act, land act, physical planning act, land survey act and registered land act among others.
But immediately after coming into force in 2017, Mzimba Heritage Association petitioned government that it would not allow for implementation of the customary land law in their jurisdiction because it was ‘flawed’ in many aspects and against their culture. Efforts to pilot the law in Mzimba were blocked and government opted for other districts.