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Land Bill will unlock development

by Lesotho Times

PARLIAMENTARY Bills are important documents which give birth to our statutory laws. The Land Bill (2009) which is currently before parliament is no exception.
It contains sections which are aimed at managing our land affairs. The Bill will replace the Land Act of 1979.
The statement of objects and reasons to the Bill argues that the new law seeks to deal with, among others, the dual land tenure system, poor land records and the limitation of land holding to foreigners.
The statement says the current status quo is to the economic detriment of the country.
The Bill has 14 parts which include, among others, sections dealing with the allocation of land in rural and urban areas as well as a section dealing with lease rights and transfers.
There are also sections which deal with government acquisitions and expropriation as well as compensation, adjudication and conflict resolutions.
The Land Bill clearly says that all land in Lesotho is vested irrevocably and in perpetuity in the Basotho nation.
It also says the land is held by the state as the representative of the nation (Section 4(1)).
In this respect the Bill is not different from the Land Act of 1979.
Section 6 of the Bill lists people who can hold title to land in Lesotho.
Among these people are non-citizens subject to conditions specified in the Regulations (Section 6 (c)).
This provision has triggered fierce debate among politicians and civil society.
Regulation 19 lists the conditions a non-citizen has to fulfil before he can be allowed title to land.
The condition provides that “the applicant (should be) a natural person (who) has resided in Lesotho for a period of not less than six months”.
There are different views and opinions in Lesotho’s political circles as to whether it is good to grant land titles to non-citizens.
Some argue that if foreigners own land in Lesotho they will be able to invest and contribute significantly to the economic well-being of the country.
Their opponents argue that wealthy foreign investors will take away the only thing Basotho possess — their land.
According to the Land Act of 1979 (as subsequently amended), only Lesotho nationals may hold title to land.
Critics of the law argue that the Act discourages foreign investment.
Investors do not feel the need to invest and develop the land that at the end of the day does not belong to them, they argue.
These investors view Lesotho as a “small, selfish, poor country” that is opposed to development.
This perception has a serious effect on investment.
These critics argue that the Land Act of 1979 is therefore archaic and must be dismantled.
In this 21st century, people must be allowed to own land irrespective of their nationality and country of origin.
They also argue that people must have the freedom to invest wherever they want as long as they do not have a negative impact on the residents of the land they wish to invest.
The bottle-necks brought about by the 1979 Land Act discourage investments and holds back national development.
Those who support the new Bill argue that we need a law that allows foreign investors to settle down in Lesotho, develop the land and create jobs for our unemployed citizens.
I am of the strong view that based on the above arguments the Parliament of Lesotho should pass the Land Bill (2009).
But it is also important to look at the views of critics of the Bill.
Critics argue, and rightly so, that passing this Bill into law would be tantamount to depriving Basotho of their only national asset of real value — land.
They argue this would just be as good as killing them. They argue Basotho derive their livelihood from land.
Whether it is through agriculture, shelter and keeping of their domestic animals, all these happen on the land.
They go further and argue that depriving Basotho of this asset would mean deepening the roots of poverty.
The critics further argue that passing the Bill in its present form would be tantamount to selling Lesotho to the highest bidder.
They claim that giving non-citizens title to land will encourage these foreigners who have stronger economic muscle than Basotho to buy land to the detriment of Basotho.
Having analysed both sides of the argument it is important for Basotho to make informed conclusions on the matter.
While it might have been taboo to commercialise land in Lesotho in the past it is important that we go that route. This is the 21st century.
The uplifting of the standards of living of our people is important.
The acquisition of land by non-citizens would enhance the economic well-being of the country as investors will invest and develop that land.
Of course, any investment should come with strict conditions to ensure that Basotho are not exploited.

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