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NGOs back land laws

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Barely five days after some chiefs protested against the Customary Land Act, some Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have described the enactment of the land-related bills as a milestone towards the realisation of people’s land rights.

LandNet, which is a network of at least 40 civil society organisations (CSOs) that advocate pro-poor and equitable land and natural resources policies, and Oxfam argue that the land laws are set to significantly benefit smallholder farmers of which majority are women.

In a joint statement, the two organisations further state that they expect President Peter Mutharika will assent to the remaining land-related bills that Parliament has already passed.

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Mutharika already assented to the Principal Land, the Customary Land, the Physical Planning and the Land Survey bills which were passed during the last meeting of Parliament and the newly passed bills await his signature before they can become acts of Parliament.

However, some chiefs stormed Parliament last Thursday, demanding that a motion should be moved so that the Customary Land Act, which was a major bone of contention even before Mutharika endorsed it, is repealed.

The chiefs maintain that the Customary Land Act is limiting their authority even though Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Atupele Muluzi, argues that the law in fact empowers the traditional leaders.

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In the statement, LandNet and Oxfam hail the Lands Ministry for “mounting a rigorous awareness campaign that has led to the enactment of the land bills”.

“The land-related laws present a significant milestone towards ensuring that Malawians, particularly, smallholder farmers especially women enjoy improved access to land and secure tenure rights as espoused in the Malawi National Land Policy of 2002.

“We would also like to highlight our appreciation on the bold steps that government has taken to decentralise land administration as the powers which concentrated in the presidency and the minister responsible for land matters have now been fully decentralised,” the statement reads.

It adds that, contrary to what some quarters argue, traditional authorities will now assume powers over land administration through presiding over customary land committees at the group village level and land tribunals at the traditional authority level.

During their protests, the chiefs argued that, among others, consultations on the Customary Land Bill were not enough and they have since demanded that the law should be repealed before it becomes effective.

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