The Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development on Friday described the passing of the Customary Land Bill by Parliament as a landmark victory for all Malawians.
Atupele Muluzi said the passing of the bill empowered citizens and chiefs on land issues.
Muluzi was speaking during an interface with the media to clarify the contents of the bill which he said were misunderstood by opposition legislators who wanted to torpedo its passing.
The opposition legislators walked out of Parliament on Tuesday morning in protest against the bill, claiming there were some areas that required amendment before it could be passed.
They claimed that the bill aimed at, among other things, burdening poor Malawians with tax payment for the land they inherited from their ancestors.
They also claimed that it could also take away powers of chiefs on land issues following the creation of village committees to be involved in land issues.
But unpacking the bill, which was passed despite the opposition’s boycott, Muluzi said the opposition’s concerns were unfounded and contrary to the contents and meaning of the indicated clauses.
He faulted the opposition for failing to take time to read and understand the bill.
“The passing of the Land Bill and the Customary Land Bill in Parliament on Tuesday was, in fact, a historical victory for the Malawi Government because it responded to the call Malawians made in 2002 to have a land reform policy,” Muluzi said.
“The bill has undergone rigorous debate and scrutiny over the 14 years and by passing it, we have only responded to the needs of Malawian who all suggested how they wanted land issues to be handled.”
Muluzi said with the passing of the Customary Land Bill, Malawians owning a piece of land would now have binding documents that would give them ownership and pride of the land unlike before.
He pointed out that what the opposition did not understand in the bill was that no Malawian would be required in the first place to pay any tax for the land they own.
The fee mentioned in the bill referred to the costs that would be levied if the land holder decided to transact his or her piece of land, he said.
“The point is that every Malawian owning a piece of land will have to register [for free] to have a deed of the land,” said Muluzi.
He said if the land owner did not want to transact or do any business with the land, but used it for either farming or family settlement, they would not have to pay any fee but would still have the binding ownership of the land through the registration.
Muluzi said: “Only when the land holder decides to sell, or rent out the land, that’s when he or she will have to pay to the responsible department under the ministry for stamp duty and the processing of the entire transaction.
“That is a normal procedure because government cannot manage to foot the payment of every individual’s private transaction.”
On the opposition’s assertions that the establishment of the village committees to work with chiefs in land issues would take away the powers of the chiefs, Muluzi said the provision gave chiefs legal mandate over customary, which he said was not the case before.
He said if opposition parties’ calls to dissolve village committees on land issues were heeded, they would render the chiefs powerless because by recognizing chiefs as heads of the committees, the bill gave them legal powers in land issues.
“Besides empowering the chiefs on land issues through the village committees, the bill also takes care of the gender aspect because it stipulates 50 per cent participation of women in the village committees. That’s empowering women who did not have a say on land issues before,” he said.
Muluzi called on Malawians to embrace the passing of the bill which he said for the first time would give Malawians the pride to “freely and legally own the land that belongs to them as Malawians.”