From Mpemba’s Staff Development Institute (SDI) and Blantyre’s Agriculture Development Division (ADD) lands in Chileka to Lilongwe’s Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) in Area 3 and Choma in Mzuzu, the impunity with which lands officials have allocated hectares to private developers knows no bounds.
In Blantyre, SDI in Mpemba had a shock of its life to see a private developer demarcating plots and selling to individuals, part of the land reserved for construction of additional institutional houses and expansion of the institute.
According to letters and other documents Weekend Nation has seen, the freehold land was allocated to SDI in January 2008 by the liquidated Malawi Development Corporation (MDC) Limited, which used to manage the land.
The land in question comprised Lot Nos. 40, 41, 42 and 43 covering about 5.13 hectares whose survey work was already done and approved by the Surveyor General.
SDI—formerly Mpemba Staff Training College—is a training, consulting and research government institution based at Mpemba and was established in 1962 as the training arm of the country’s Civil Service.
It is administratively placed under the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRMD) and Development in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
That explains why—when its one time investment arm, MDC, folded—government decided that its lands in Mpemba be transferred to SDI.
A letter dated January 14 2008 addressed to the Regional Commissioner for Lands (South) titled ‘Transfer of Freehold Land at Mpemba for Mpemba Staff Development Institute (Lot Nos. 40, 41, 42, 43, 29, 27 and Lot No. 26) shows at the time MDC completed all formalities required in transferring the land to SDI.
“By copy of this letter, the principal of Mpemba Staff Development Institute is requested to note the developments. From now onwards, he should liaise with Regional Commissioner for Lands (S) on the matter as we have completed all formalities required on our side,” reads the letter signed by Gauloni Kainja who was MDC Liquidator.
An indenture of conveyance dated January 17 2008 between MDC Limited (in voluntary liquidation) and the then Minister responsible for land matters developed by Kainja and Dzonzi Attorneys at Law indicates the land was registered under Deed number 77174.
However, SDI management was surprised to note that a private developer Dr Smart Chokhotho of Lilongwe is now on the site demarcating plots and selling them to individuals without the college’s knowledge.
The development came after SDI had earlier advised its parent ministry of its interest to start construction of 11 class C staff houses on the land in line with the agreement entered into with MDC Limited.
SDI director Owen Mutega confirmed in an interview that their land meant for the college’s future development was suspiciously allocated to individuals without their knowledge.
“The land was allocated to us by MDC who were administrators then after we requested and it was reserved for the expansion of the college. However, just recently we noted that the land had been reallocated to private developers.
“Unfortunately, they are also encroaching into our other existing land. But we have taken some steps to establish what transpired and ensure the sale is possibly reversed so that the land remains in the hands of SDI,” he said.
The alleged dubious transactions also compelled SDI management to complain to principal secretaries for Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development and DHRMD.
In his letter dated June 9 2020, Mutega requested the authorities to investigate how its land was sold to a private developer who is now selling to individuals.
“In the interest of justice, we wish to further request if arrangements could be made to urgently stop the developers from continuing until your investigations are over,” reads the letter in conclusion.
The allocation of SDI land to private developer did not only surprise SDI management, but surrounding chiefs too who have since lodged a complaint to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to institute a probe on how Chokhotho acquired the land.
The disgruntled chiefs include Group Village Heads (GVH) Somba (who is also acting Traditional Authority Somba), Duncan and Mkwapatira and Village Head (VH) Jiya and Ziboda.
In their letter to ACB dated November 25 2019, the traditional leaders expressed concern with the developments, alleging the private developer was also encroaching into their subjects’ customary land.
According to their letter to ACB, they further allege Kumchulesi had been visiting the area during lunch hours, weekends and public holidays pleading with some of them to surrender their land to Chokhotho and be compensated for it.
“Could you kindly assist us to investigate the matter in two areas; (a) whether freehold land can be converted to public land without consent from the title holder and distributed to someone to further subdivide and start selling it?
“Whether the Lands Department has authority to distribute customary land without involvement of us, the chiefs,” reads part of the letter signed by the five chiefs.
Procedures were followed
On his part, Chokhotho claimed he legally acquired the land after following all the procedures with the Ministry of Lands.
“The land does not belong to SDI. It is public land and was given to me by the Ministry of Lands in exchange for another piece of land that was given by the district council. I even have a copy of the original title of the land that I had which I got in 2006.
While also referring Weekend Nation to Regional Commissioner for Lands (South) for documentation on the land, Chokhotho argued SDI just like MDC were both government institutions and were mere tenants of Ministry of Lands.
“That land was formerly under the Veterinary Department and, in fact, when I got it, I was even encroached upon and even took the matter to court,” he said.
On October 24 2019, the Regional Commissioner for Lands (South) wrote two letters which were signed on his behalf by Kumchulesi advising Ida Tsokonombwe and Isaac Kayira to stop claiming ownership of the land.
“In view of this you are advised to stop developing the same… since the land is leased for 99 years to another developer,” reads one of the letters signed by Kumchulesi with reference number SR/BT/9/191.
In an interview at her Jiya Village on Wednesday, Tsokonombwe confirmed the land allocation problems.
She said: “We are suffering injustice because of our status. Our family has been using this land since time immemorial even before SDI and now for Mr. Kumchulesi to claim that the land belongs to Mr. Chokhotho is shocking and utmost unfair.”
However, Kumchulesi—while dispelling any wrongdoing in the land transaction—referred Weekend Nation to Regional Commissioner for Lands (South) Peter Chikweni to comment on the matter.
“I am just an officer and I don’t allocate land. But in relation to that specific issue the land belongs to Mr. Chokhotho because he was duly offered by the Ministry and he has all the necessary documentation… But contact the Regional Commissioner for Lands who will accordingly respond to your query,” he explained.
But when contacted, Chikweni, while asking for a questionnaire, said he needed time to check the records with his officers to establish how the transactions were conducted.
“So far, I would really tell you that I don’t have any information at the moment pertaining to the same apart from hearing the same issues from the grapevine. So we would really wish to do a proper search so that when we are committing ourselves in giving information to you, it should be emanating from a well-thought out search,” stated Chikweni.
In a separate interview, Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Kezzie Msukwa said although he did not have full facts about the issue, government has the mandate to reallocate public land to individuals and other institutions.
“But my concern is on the other piece of land which seems to be in contravention of the laws where some individuals appear to be taking advantage of the lawlessness in the ministry and getting it from individuals,” he said.
Last week, government redeployed three top senior officials from Lands Department to other ministries in what Msukwa described as a “clean-up exercise”.
In Blantyre, agricultural land located along Chileka Road has been sold and the remaining chunk shared among some staff working at Blantyre Agriculture Development Division and also those working at the District Commissioner’s (DC) office.
The dip tank, which was constructed during the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) era, will be demolished to pave way for the new developers.
Both Blantyre DC Bernard Nkasala and chief animal health and livestock development officer Edwin Nkhulungo confirmed the transfer of land to private hands, saying they shared the 3.1 hectare land since it has been idle and also that cases of encroachment were increasing by surrounding communities.
The move shocked the then Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development Grey Nyandule Phiri who said the ministry agreed to share Mpemba Animal Quarantine Centre and not the one in Chileka.
But Nkhulungo said after communities encroached on Chileka land, they decided to share it among workers and each worker managed to get a 40 metre by 25 metre portion.
“We wrote a letter to the office of the DC when we noted cases of encroachment. I can advise you to speak to the DC,” said Nkhulungo.
Nkasala said the department of animal health accordingly sought an approval to subdivide the land for residential plots to be offered to some of its members of staff.
Despite the existing land legislations on proper land management, governance and best practices, land ownership conflicts in Malawi continue to rise.