Our Land Rush …

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Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro I understand another batch of farms is up for allotment, and signaling the land hunger gripping the country hundreds of land hungry Namibians are lining up with their application forms in a rush akin to the gold rush of decades ago in neighbouring South Africa. As the land hungry and the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement’s officials push and shove for yet another land rush, the usual question that has been chronic to land acquisition and distribution pops up naturally. It is whether the Ministry has cleaned its house. Saying that its house in this regard has been in one or the other aspect a shambles, is putting it mildly. At least as far as public confidence is concerned. In particular, the resettlement process has been the subject of various and myriad accusations, wrongly or rightly, and a source of frustration and despair to many land hungry citizens. These accusations and finger-pointing include favouritism with those on the various resettlement committees in the regions charged with nepotism for being well-disposed towards their own, be they distant cousins, nieces and nephews or immediate relatives like mothers, etc. Not only that, but the process has also been subjected to widespread rumours of officials of the Ministry even helping themselves to the pie. These rumours have never been dispelled and public confidence in the selection process remains low, if altogether non-existent. There have also been charges of corruption with would-be resettlers having to dig deep in their pockets if only to ensure that their application forms reach the pile and do not disappear somewhere among the mountains of applications. In a nutshell, the transparency in the application and selection process has been suspect. I want to emphasise “has been” because I am talking about the past, albeit not a too distant past for that matter. Since things may have changed, I don’t know but only the Ministry can assure us that things have indeed changed. With yet another application and selection process around, a pointer to this change must be the transparency of the process. During the launch of the report of the Permanent Technical Team on Land Reform (PTT) last month, the Minister of Lands and Resettlement, Jerry Ekandjo, re-emphasised the importance of resolving the land issue pointing out that “if it has not been solved it can have political, economic and social implications to Namibia’s socio-economic development”. In this regard the importance of transparency as a necessary aspect to one of the means of redistributing land, needs emphasis. Hitherto the application and selection process for resettling the land hunger has been dominated by the relevant Ministry and the results in terms of transparency have been highly suspect. However, any reference to this aspect in the Minister’s launching speech of the PTT report, or in the report itself, is hard to come by. The closest the Minister may have come to this aspect is where he accentuates the participatory role of regional councils and local authorities, and indeed community involvement and mass participation, in the successful implementation of the land reform programme. As crucial as these may be these do not necessarily breed confidence in the transparency of the process that needs bold emphasis. To my mind, this is one aspect of the process that the Ministry should have prioritised in its “stock-taking” and “strategising” venture. Yes, some of the accusations may be no more than what they are, mere accusations, but there is no denying that they cost the process detrimental harm in terms of public confidence. More so, in view of the fact we are engaged in a crusade against corruption, I am sure by having an in-built mechanism against corruption in the resettlement selection process, the Ministry it its special way can contribute to the nationwide fight against corruption and nip the problem in the bud in its own backyard. People of equally good standing in those regions must serve independent selection panels of eminent people with a balanced representation of the diverse strata of society, be it governmental, business, community, etc. Vital due regard must be given to the chairpersons of these committees. There may be a need to review the chairpersonship of these committees currently chaired by governors and deposit such chairs in either the Ministry of Justice via magistrates or any other eminent legal persons with the governors only serving as members. This is to ensure that the process is aloof from the intricate web of camaraderie, you-wash-my-back and I-wash-yours that seemed to have contaminated resettlement committees in the past. At the Ministerial level, an equally impeccable board/panel should preside over considering regional recommendations. The Ministry of course should be represented but it must be cushioned off from undue Ministerial influence save for the fact that its policies and objectives are advanced and carried out. It would help the transparency process a great deal if information such as on successful applicants and the reasons for their success become public information. Equally, unsuccessful ones and the reasons thereof must be publicized. In future, those serving on these panels must apply and be vetted for their good standing and appointed by an independent body taking cognizance, of course, of the need for broad-based representation. The other issue that has been of concern in the resettlement process and which we believe necessitated the suspension of the scheme at one point or another in the past, is making sure that would-be resettlers make use of the land on which they are resettled productively. It is gratifying to see the matter is taken care of. Not only that but all in all the PTT should be given a pat on the back for its extensive work. It remains now for the Ministry, and of course its stakeholders, to ensure that its good work does not end up gathering dust in ministerial desk drawers.