Land Reform Proceeds Slowly in Namibia
|December 5, 2006||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
Stop Funnelling Taxpayer Money to Landlords
Land Reform Proceeds Slowly in Namibia
Here is a news summary from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Namibia’s land reform process is characterised by poor planning and slow implementation, analysts warn. Although the government has assured the international community that it will not emulate Zimbabwe’s controversial programme, it is not buying enough land through the willing-buyer, willing-seller arrangement.
Namibia has around 4,000 commercial farms, the vast majority of them white-owned, but by the end of last year the government was able to buy only 118 of them, covering a total of 710,000 hectares. The target set eight years ago was to buy and redistribute 9.5 million hectares in five years.
So far, only around 35,000 of 243,000 landless Namibians have been resettled. A study conducted by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) found that the pace at which land reform was proceeding would not allow Namibia’s rural poor to benefit.
“There is no evidence that the Ministry of Lands is proceeding to purchase farms for resettlement based on any kind of plan,” LAC official Norman Tjombe said.
While analysts like Tjombe criticise the ministry for the slow pace of redistribution, the government counters by accusing the commercial farmers of exploiting the market system and inflating the prices of farms.
The Progress Report notes — land reform is a process of fairness. Shoveling money at a tiny handful of rich landlords cannot be a part of any process of fairness. Namibia needs to pay more attention to upgrading its site value taxation system instead.
The evidence suggests that there is more land on the market than the government can afford. It has so far bought farms worth over N$105 million (US $14 million) since independence.
Independent land consultant Wolfgang Werner said he does not see the redistribution process accelerating in the foreseeable future, because the political balance of forces are stacked against the landless and dispossessed, “who are not well organised, and thus do not wield any bargaining power”.
Werner also suggested that a small new land-owning black elite has emerged, which has been able to acquire land through the government’s Affirmative Action Loan Scheme, set up to benefit formerly disadvantaged Namibians.
Frans Tsheehama, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Lands, acknowledged that senior government officials have bought land, but claimed the process was transparent and followed the official guidelines.
The government recently introduced a land tax to force foreign land owners to sell some of their property. However, the process remains flawed because it is not clear how much land Namibian commercial farmers or absentee landlords own.
The Progress Report notes — to avoid corruption and promote transparency, Namibia should abandon its hopelessly slow land purchasing program and focus on optimizing the land tax (site value tax) instead. Site value tax is the way for government to stimulate a more just landholding configuration without expense, without corruption, and without new bureacracies.
Lands ministry officials, assisted by the police and immigration, recently started a survey to determine the nationality and status of all commercial landowners in the country. Tsheehama said the information would help the ministry to update its data bank and come up with a valuation roll of agricultural properties.
The ministry sent out forms to obtain the information on which the provisional valuation roll of agricultural properties would be based, but only around 60 percent of the 12,684 farm owners have returned them, provoking the ministry to threaten that it would invoke a regulation stipulating that those who do not return the form could face a fine N$20,000 (US $2,666) or five years behind bars, or both.
The forms require the farmers to disclose the number of farms they own, the total hectarage, and the names and nationalities of the owners. The data will be used to determine the amount of money the farmers will pay under a land tax introduced at the beginning of April this year.
The Progress Report notes — an excellent step in the right direction. Only a few landless people benefitted from the purchase program, but all landless can benefit from a site value tax.
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