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Malawi government backtracks on land bills

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Malawi government has yet again changed tune on its promise to table a bill in Parliament. This time the victim is a combo of the much-awaited land bills. Smarting from another unpopular decision to reject the Access to Information Bill, last Tuesday, government gives the same tired excuse that it wants all sticky issues resolved before tabling the bills.

In an interview on Friday, Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu said the bills will not be handled in this current meeting of Parliament.

“It will not appear on the Order Paper because we are still looking at the land bills. A promise was made [that the bills will be tabled] and we will keep that promise, but the fact is that we haven’t completed looking at the bills. We need to complete looking at them carefully, before we table them. What’s the point when we rush something to Parliament, when it’s not fully completed?” Tembenu said.

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He also highlighted some of the issues he wanted to be addressed: “The land bills cover a lot. There is the Customary Land Act, there is the Land Act, and several other bills, all of them have issues.

Because the issues are inter-related, we have to make sure that there is no inconsistency in the bills. So we are looking at that: Ownership, how to dispose of land, all those were major issues before. We want to resolve them properly before we bring the bills to Parliament.”

Before the opening of the 46th Session of Parliament, Leader of the House Francis Kasaila, said the land bills would be among pieces of legislation to be discussed.

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Government’s recent position has not gone down well with LandNet, a network of NGOs that deal with issues of land. The network’s national coordinator, Emmanuel Mlaka described government’s change of tune as unfortunate.

“LandNet members are bitter about the postponement [in tabling the bills]; very bitter in fact, for a number of reasons. The first reason is that the Ministry of Lands has been communicating to LandNet that for sure, the bills are going to be tabled this time. By not tabling the bills this time, it means they did not tell us the truth,”

He added: “We were expecting the bills would be tabled in June meeting of Parliament. That is what we were promised. The other reason why the CSOs are bitter is that the Ministry keeps on accusing CSOs that they are blocking the passing of the bills. I want to say clearly here that the weakness is with the government, not the CSOs. The CSOs have submitted areas where they feel that the rights of people and their socio-economic life will be at stake, but those areas are not corrected.”

A total of 11 land and land-related bills are expected to be tabled once the matter is taken to Parliament.

Despite having an updated land policy, all land in Malawi continues to be governed by a 50-year old land law.

In 2012 a revised land law which was primarily modelled on the 1965 Act was tabled in Parliament. In June 2013 the principal bill was passed (Land law and customary law). However, some CSOs with divergent views presented their position papers and restrained former president, Joyce Banda, from assenting to the bill.

Key concerns of the CSOs were in such areas as responsiveness of the law, effective institutional structures, improved land access, customary land issues and gender and rights of vulnerable groups

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