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Transparency in Land Administration - a closer look

Column
Shadrack Tjiramba, researcher, LEAD
Friday, June 20, 2008
The Namibian

WHY should Namibians concern themselves with a transparent land administrative system? The answer is obvious.

First, land is the only natural resource hosting all human activities, thus there is a strong demand to gain access.

Second, transparent land administration could increase equitable access to land and its natural resources which is an important factor to help reduce poverty and contribute to economic growth.

Land administration can be described as a process of determining, recording and disseminating information about ownership, value and use of land.

The underlying principle of land administration is to facilitate effective management and use of land resources in a sustainable way.

An effective and transparent land administration is not only vital to the success of land and agrarian reform, but it can also help to meet the aspirations of the National Development Goals and the Millennium Development Goals.

These developmental agendas aim to create a legitimate, democratic and effective system characterised by transparent institutions.

'Abuse of discretion' generally refers to 'failure to take proper consideration of facts relating to a particular matter.

Meaning that in the event that an authoritative person deliberately ignores to follow guidelines and procedures, such action may constitute to corrupt practice.

Abuse of discretion might easily apply to the land issue, as the administration and management of land in Namibia belongs to the domain of government and local authorities.

Generally, land administrators have discretionary powers in exercising their duties which invariably can be abused.

It is this risk of abuse that calls for transparency in land administration.

The absence of this can impact directly on the lives of Namibians, both rich and poor.

In the latter case, the results can be devastating as the poor become even more impoverished and trapped in a vicious cycle of vulnerability and dependence.

Almost no country is free from corruption.

Although there is no universally agreed definition of corruption, the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), defines corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain.

More than two-thirds of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) scored less than 5 out of a score of 10, indicating serious levels of corruption.

According to the 2006 CPI, Namibia is ranked at 55 with Costa Rica compared to South Africa at 51 and Botswana at 37.

Corruption has devastating effects on developing countries such as Namibia, as it hinders advances in economic growth and democracy.

In order to illustrate the importance of transparency in land administration, the resettlement programme serves as example.

The government, through its National Resettlement Policy identifies certain groups that are to benefit from resettlement programme.

These are the San community, ex-soldiers who fought in the liberation struggle, returnees from the war of liberation, displaced persons who returned from exile after independence and have nowhere to settle, people with disabilities and people living in overcrowded communal areas.

People who have more than 150 large stock units or 800 smallstock or the equivalent will not be eligible for resettlement.

The Resettlement Policy suggests that, due to a limitation of resources (although it is no clear what resources the policy refers to) the government needs to implement the resettlement programme in such a manner that will reach those who are really in need of farming land.

In addition, applicants should meet and adhere to the following criteria; (a) prospective beneficiaries should have a background or interest in agriculture (b) applicants should adhere to the stipulations of the lease agreement and utilise the land allocated to them productively (c) should not deploy livestock exceeding the carrying capacity and (d) applicants should be prepared to land under a leasehold tenure arrangement.

Persons who meet the above set criteria do not automatically qualify for resettlement.

The selection process of resettlement beneficiaries begins with the Regional Resettlement Committee (RCC) of the region in which the farm is situated.

They primarily review and put forward suitable applications for resettlement to the Land Reform Advisory Commission (LRAC) based in Windhoek.

The Regional Resettlement Committee comprises 13 members of which at least 6 members are from government ministries and is chaired by the regional governor, and members from the National Planning Commission, Agri-Bank and the Namibia Development Corporation.

There is evidence that top government officials have been resettled on farms and also a case where a regional governor has been resettled.

The regional governor chairs the Regional Resettlement Committee.

This suggests that the selection criterion is not followed and the nominations by the Regional Resettlement Committees are simply ignored.

In other words, does he/she nominate him/herself? What does this say about the transparent nature of the process? Another shortcoming of the policy is that it does not set a benchmark on salary income as a criterion.

In other words, someone, like the regional governor who receives a good salary, should be advised to buy a farm through the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme rather than to apply for a resettlement farm which could have been awarded to someone in a less favourable financial position than him/herself.

Furthermore, although it is a policy requirement, to date none of the 1 964 families that have been resettled by the Ministry have been issued with the 99-year leasehold agreement.

"Once we rehabilitate the infrastructure, then we can issue the lease agreements" (New Era Newspaper, 28th April 2008).

Because government envisages to start charging rent from resettlement beneficiaries as a cost recovery measure, rehabilitating the dilapidated infrastructure becomes a precondition to issuing leasehold agreements.

In the absence of leasehold agreements, resettled farmers are unable to use the land as collateral to acquire loans.

As a result infrastructure on resettlement farms is rundown because resettled farmers lack the financial means to maintain it.

Running a poor land administration system holds a number of negative consequences for the implementation of an effective land reform policy.

Examples from all over the world show that poor land administration normally results in a culture of corruption, 'nepotism and favouritism' which in turn leads to taxpayers' money being wasted (because it is not used for what it was intended in the first place) and ultimately the failure of well-intended government policy.

It must also be noted, that lack of transparency in land administration ensures insecurity of tenure, promotes corruption and creates social and political instability arising from land disputes.

On the other hand, a well managed land administration follows the rules and regulations created by government policy which establish a culture of transparency and accountability within government and trust among the public.

In a well managed land administration, priority is given to those who are truly in need of resettlement, i.e.

the poor and the landless over those who can afford to buy their own land through the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme such as, for example, a regional governor or a permanent secretary in a government ministry.

Transparency also means that government provide prospective applicants with clear reasons as to why or why not their applications for resettlement was approved or not.

Under the current system of applying for resettlement, such feedback appears to be non-existent.

Thus, transparency in land administration involves comprehensible legislation, policies, regulations, charters, and that all instruments governing and used in day-to-day administration and management of land are made publicly available and widely disseminated.

It would also ideally entail information brochures, checklists etc.

that specify step by step procedures, the time required to complete processes as well as the provision of procedures for registering dissatisfaction.

Citizens must be able to obtain redress easily and quickly when the government has acted arbitrarily or incompetently.

These types of safeguards will produce a balance between effectiveness and transparency.

The responsibility to create a culture of transparency does not entirely rest with government.

Civil society and the media are key agents in sustaining an environment that discourages corrupt practices.

Indeed, in any free and democratic society, such as Namibia, these institutions have an obligation to inform the citizens and act as watchdog of government legitimacy and transparency to ensure that mechanisms are in place for the media and the public at large to access government documents.

For instance, there is currently no central help desk or database in place which an ordinary Namibian citizen can consult to see a list of all resettled beneficiaries.

When attempting to do so I was first told to get permission from the Director of Resettlement.

Later, I was told that I have to address a formal request to the Permanent Secretary.

Throughout this exercise, I felt I had gone through some sort of national secret service interrogation process by Ministry of Lands and Resettlement bureaucrats asking me questions such as "Why do you want the list? What do you want to do with it?" It struck me as quite remarkable how much efforts it took to obtain information that should be readily available and easily accessible for the public in any event! In this age of information technology, there is increasing focus on e-government putting government services and information online.

Implementing e-government would not only increase Namibia's transparency in land administration, but also serve as a tool for the entire public sector reform and build trust of citizens in government services.

While very few may illegitimately benefit from corrupt practices in land administration and land management, an efficient and transparent land administration system will reduce fraud and bribery and provide incentives for investment and development.

Hence transparent land administration will be in the best interest of all Namibian citizens (and not just a few) and government.

In particular it will help to efficiently secure land tenure for the poor!

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