Consensus needed on Bill

THE issue of land has always been an emotive one since Biblical times.
Predictably, the Land Bill (2009) which is before parliament has elicited a similar response.
Opposition political parties and civil society have been particularly scathing in their criticism of the proposed law.
Political parties allege that the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili wants to sell out our land to foreigners, which is a very serious charge.
Civil society has lambasted the Bill saying it is “elitist and seeks to dispossess” the poor of their God-given inheritance.
It also says the consultation process was not broad and deep enough to represent the will of the people.
These are serious concerns.
As things stand, it appears there is no meeting of minds between the government and civil society.
The Land Bill was tabled in parliament by Local Government Minister Pontso Sekatle last month.
The Bill could see a complete change of the land tenure system and have far-reaching implications for Basotho.
The new law is set to replace the Land Act of 1979 which the government says has serious limitations that hamper the country’s economic development.
In its statement of objects and reasons, the government seems to have a compelling case in revamping the land tenure system.
The government says the current land tenure system has not been “responsive to the economic needs of the country”.
It says the current land tenure system was “costly, slow, inefficient, restrictive and not transparent”.
The result, the government argues, is that this “hampers investments and creates dysfunctional land markets”.
The government says it wants a revamp of the land tenure system to enhance the use of land as an economic asset.
It also argues that the Land Act of 1979 resulted in the “inefficient control of growth of urban and peri-urban areas and the absence of planning creates problems for the creation of infrastructure”.
Under the Land Amendment Act No 27 of 1986, foreigners are barred from owning land in Lesotho.
The government says this restriction is “to the economic detriment of the country”.
The government also argues that the current land law requires “cumbersome procedures which lead to inefficient land administration services”.
It is also not happy with the lack of security of tenure regarding land under the present law.
The government says the new land law should address all these “anomalies”.
We can understand the rationale behind the crafting of the law.
In fact, we agree with most of the government’s arguments pushing for the revamping of the land tenure system in Lesotho.
The Land Bill has some very good aspects that if adopted could in the long run drastically change the face of urban areas in the country.
Be that as it may, it is also important for the government to listen to the concerns of civil society and opposition political parties.
For instance, the Development for Peace Education which is pushing to torpedo the Bill has argued that the consultation process was deeply flawed.
The civic groups are arguing that the process was not wide and deep enough to represent the will of the people.
Democracy means governance with the consent of the majority.
The people must therefore be allowed to speak their minds so that their concerns, which are genuine, are taken into consideration before the Bill is passed into law.
The temptation for the government is to ignore the concerns of the people and use its muscle to railroad whatever changes it wants on the law.
This would be unfortunate.
Opposition parties have dismissed the consultation process as a charade.
The government must be seen to be responding to these concerns if the process is to be truly representative of the people.
What is clear from the media reports is that as Basotho we need a platform to debate this land issue.

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