Malawi Law Society (MLS) says there is “nothing sinister” about the provisions in the Customary Land Bill which Parliament passed last week alongside other Land-related Bills.
Responding to questions The Nation put to him to interpret the four Land-related Bills Parliament passed, MLS honorary secretary Khumbo Soko said it was important that those commenting on the Customary Land Bill understand that it is part of a series of legal interventions that seek to change the land law regime.
He cautioned that people risk misleading themselves and others if they comment on a singular provision in the law in isolation from the totality of the Act and the broader legislative scheme in which it sits.
In the just risen Budget Meeting, Parliament passed four of the 10 Land-related Bills. The four include: the Customary Land Bill, Land Bill Number 2, the Land Survey Bill and the Physical Planning Bill.
However, it is some provisions in the Customary Land Bill and the Land Bill which have sparked angry reactions from sections of society, with some already planning demonstrations.
Led by Chitipa South legislator Werani Chilenga (People’s Party-PP)—who chaired the parliamentary joint committee which reviewed the Bills—the opposition feels government has been adamant to some of the issues they raised about the Bills.
In a telephone interview on Monday, he said that despite having noted many issues that needed to be reconsidered in the Bills, the committees isolated four that demanded immediate attention.
They included restrictions on the sale of land to foreigners; abolishment of freehold lease; reverse removal of customary land from the category of land in Malawi; and, lastly, to reword the payment of fees by occupiers of a customary estate.
Chilenga said government side only agreed on the restricting the sale of land to foreigners. They resisted the other three, he said.
However, among the resisted three, it is the one on customary estate payments which has generated too much debate.
The law defines a customary estate as a “customary land, which is owned, held, or occupied as private land within a traditional land management area and is registered as such under the Registered Land Act.”
Arguably, Sections 24 and 26 talks about payments when the customary estate has been granted to an organisation, a body and not an individual.
The organisation or a body will, hence, pay fees, once, when getting the estate and pay annual rent for occupying it.
Chilenga wants the wording to change. Individual holders, or say local people who have registered their land, should be exempted from these payments, he says.
Government, through the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Housing Atupele Muluzi, however, argued that “the fees which will be prescribed are transactional and not rent or charges on customary land”.
However, Soko, on the question of fees, said the understanding is that the management of customary land will change.
He said: “Customary land will comprise parcels of land of differing classifications, including what will be called traditional land management areas that will be under traditional authorities. This will involve planning, surveying and titling of customary land as we know it.”
Soko explained that cost for this exercise will be borne by the State. However, he underlined, those who wish to privatise their land will have to pay the relevant fees and there is nothing sinister about this. In fact, he added, it is what already obtains if one wants to lease customary land.
He also added that law and practice currently already provides for payment of rent and rates for those who hold leasehold estates.
However, Soko warned that whatever fees the State is going to levy should reflect the economic realities that most people live in Malawi.