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Controversial Bill tabled

Nat MolomoPontso Sekatle

MASERU –– A Bill that will strip chiefs of powers to allocate land under customary law was last Monday tabled in Parliament for the first reading. 
The Land Bill 2009 is also meant to “create opportunities” for foreigners to hold and own land in Lesotho.
The Bill, tabled by Local Government and Chieftainship Minister Ponts’o Sekatle, is designed to repeal the Land Act of 1979.
However, the Bill still retains a clause stating the land is vested in the Basotho nation and is held in trust by the king.
Non-Lesotho citizens may hold title to land for investment purposes under this Bill.
The statement of objects and reasons for the Bill says the land tenure system and its administration under the current law are not responsive to the economic needs of Lesotho.
“It is perceived to be costly, slow, inefficient, restrictive and not transparent,” reads the statement.
“The end results are that registered land rights are not provided to the majority of citizens and this hampers investments and creates dysfunctional land markets.
“The current tenure system does not also bring much revenue to the state.”
The statement further says the other shortcoming is that limitation of land holding to foreigners “is to the economic detriment of the country.”
The Bill seeks to promote efficiency in land services and enhance the use of land as an economic asset in Lesotho.
The statement also says under the current law there is inefficient control of growth of urban and peri-urban areas and the absence of planning that create problems for the development of infrastructure.
Some of the shortcomings of the current law are that land disputes are not disposed of quickly.
The land tribunal is centralised in Maseru and its jurisdiction is limited to certain cases under the old law.
The current law’s other shortcomings are inequality between boy and girl children and lack of protection of minor orphans.
The Bill promises speedy resolution of land matters through creation of specialised land courts so that economic activities are not hampered.
The statement also says there are no provisions criminalising corrupt practices by officials and authorities in rendering of land services under the current law.
“Secured titles will encourage people to develop their properties and use their properties as economic assets,” the statement says.
The Bill says there will be greater efficiency in the conduct of land transactions and that the land market will be improved as there will be more leases.
The Bill is a result of consultation with stakeholders which involved bankers, chambers of commerce, law administration, chiefs and non-governmental organisations.
However, the principal chief of Likhoele, Lerotholi Seeiso, has attacked the Bill as a plan to take land from Basotho, especially the poor, to the rich foreigners.
Chief Seeiso said the Bill would become a weapon for “greedy” politicians and foreigners disguised as investors to snatch land from the poor.
“We are heading to a situation similar to Swaziland’s where two-thirds of land is possessed by rich foreigners,” the chief said.
“I do not have problems with the change of our customs but I hate seeing the land of Basotho being taken away by economic power.
“It is common knowledge that most Basotho are very poor and it is going to be easy for them to sell their land cheap and after a few years they will be poorer than before they sold their land.
“Our forefathers fought for this land and it is not good to give it to foreigners like that.”
The Bill is yet to be discussed by the cluster on Local Government, Agriculture and Forestry.

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