Govt land commission just another wild goose chase

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“You know our policy; we do not give somebody land who is less than 21 years, but we are getting people with 10 years, 12 owning plots and that could explain why some plots are vacant,” Lands and Rural Resettlement minister Douglas Mombeshora said in 2014.

BY WONGAI ZHANGAZHA

“Some people acquired farms on behalf of their children and used the correct ID numbers, but lied on the date of birth,” he added after his ministry had taken a batch of identity document numbers to the Registrar-General’s Office to get details of land reform beneficiaries, including dates of birth, as part of an interim audit.

The audit revealed massive irregularities in Zimbabwe’s land reform programme, which has been carried out in a chaotic and often violent manner since 2000.

Mombeshora revealed the land reform programme was marred by double allocation of farms, but said a comprehensive audit, which would cost the country US$$35 million, would reveal more details.

Zimbabwe though, is yet to carry out a comprehensive land audit, which would expose multiple farm owners and unproductive farms, among other things.

The country, however, took a potentially massive step in addressing some injustices and anomalies in the land distribution after President Robert Mugabe’s decision to appoint the Zimbabwe Land Commission (ZLC).

Among its many duties, the ZLC is expected to conduct periodic land audits and investigate and determine complaints and disputes regarding supervision, administration and allocation of agricultural land.

It is also meant to ensure that there is no discrimination in the allocation of land and that no one holds more than one farm.

Although the appointment of the ZLC is good news and can potentially bring sanity to the controversial land reform, the body faces a very difficult task.

Observers say like other commissions, the ZLC is likely to be underfunded and possibly face massive resistance should it try to address the anomalies brought about by the land reform programme, given that most multiple farm owners are senior government officials, service chiefs, and their cronies.

The daggers, which were thrown at the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission for investigating corruption in government ministries, are a pointer to what awaits the ZLC should it attempt to do its work.

Despite advocating for the one-man-one-farm policy, the Mugabe family owns 14 farms. The family represents a major stumbling block to the ZLC.

Analysts also say the Tendai Bare-chaired commission is handicapped by the fact that it has to seek Mombeshora’s permission to make regulations thus affecting its independence.

Agriculture expert Dale Doré says not much can be expected from the ZLC this year as it will probably operate without funds.

He said the commission was likely to be allocated enough funds to set up offices and buy expensive cars. Questions have been asked whether it is conceivable that the land commission will carry out a land audit and recommend the enforcement of a one-farm policy, minimum farm sizes, suggest that idle land be transferred to those with experience, training and full-time farmers as well as end discrimination, which is also part of the commission’s remit. Doré, however, believes the ZLC will most likely take a cue from Mugabe.

“The only mandates they can follow are those from the president, and do the bidding of a president who orchestrated and justifies the seizure of the most productive commercial farms, which he and his cronies have grabbed in a manner that was neither fair nor transparent. The president himself, and many of the ruling party elite are multiple farm holders,” he said.

“By changing the system of tenure when they nationalised farms, they destroyed the underlying capital (collateral) value of land so farmers can no longer fund their farming operations. Because most bureaucrats, politicians and military officers who received land don’t have a clue about farming, and have hardly spent any time on their farms. Most farms are lying idle.”

Doré questioned how the commission can be independent as required by Section 297(6)(a) of the constitution when it can only make recommendations to government, seek the minister’s permission to make regulations and must exercise its functions in accordance with the minister’s policy directives.

“How can the land commission suggest anything that will make the administration of land accountable, fair or transparent when a Zimbabwean doctor, with a practice in Britain, who has no farming experience or training, but who is a friend of the First Lady, is allocated a productive farm owned by another Zimbabwean — who just happens to be white?” Doré pointed out.

“How can it suggest that fair compensation be paid for farms, when the government has reneged on this constitutional obligation for the past 16 years? It simply seized land without the slightest regard to its duty under the Land Acquisition Act to value it for compensation purposes. There is nothing to suggest that the Land Commission will have anything to say about the government’s refusal to uphold its own laws and the rule of law,” he added.

Senior researcher for Zimbabwe and Southern Africa with the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch Dewa Mavhinga said if the government allows the ZLC to discharge its duties independently and without undue influence, there is a chance that they will be effective.

“A major weakness of the land commission is that it has to make recommendations that the minister responsible for land must approve, and it operates in accordance with directives from the same minister,” said Mavhinga.

“This gives the government overwhelming power over the land commission that undermines its independency. Given that the majority of the beneficiaries of the land reform exercise are senior government officials, I predict that the land commission will not be able to tackle the problems of multiple farm ownership or of transparency and accountability.”

He said in the end, either the land commission will be unable to carry out its mandate effectively, or, like many other commissions in the past, its recommendations will not see the light of day.

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