Better late than never – so the saying goes. However, one just hopes the Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation is not just stirring itself from its late afternoon lull, when it will be too late to attend to the vexed question of resettlement, in particular to the suspected irregularities of favouritism, patronage and bribery feared to be rife and more the rule rather than the exception.
Lately, the focus has been falling on the Omaheke Region, but the net could be wider and endemic to the whole country. Last year, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab, visited, for instance, the Karas Region. One of the burning issues brought to his attention understandably was the resettlement process and the fact that the residents of the region had as yet to benefit in real terms from resettlement in their own region.
Yes, everyone in the country may apply for resettlement wherever. However, the concern raised by the residents of Karas with the Speaker may have provided the Ministry with a hint that somehow somewhere all may not be running smoothly in the resettlement process. Equally, if the Ministry’s memory serves it well, there was in the same region about five years ago the case of a Deputy Director in the Ministry’s regional office, in the same region, who grabbed a farm by-passing resettlement procedures and the Karas Regional Resettlement Committee.
The latest revelations emanating from the Omaheke Region are an open secret to most residents of the region. I am surprised that the only instance to which this has not been an open secret is the very custodian of this process. Only last year I queried, in this column, to what extent the Ministry had cleaned up its house before offering more farms for grabs. For grabbing is what seems to have been happening in view of the discredited application process, as has lately been revealed.
A few months later, the very application process system has been laid bare and naked for what it has been. I pointed out then that the resettlement process had been the subject of various accusations and a source of despair and frustration to many land-hungry citizens of this country. The accusations, I pointed out, have been ranging from favouritism with those on the various resettlement committees in the regions accused of nepotism and fast-tracking the applications of their families and acquaintances and, worse still, doing it for a dime or two, or the equivalent thereof. If this is not shameful enough, officials of the Ministry have been suspected of being the main culprits in terms of unashamedly helping themselves to the pie.
The writing has always been on the wall, as much as it has been on the wall in the media of late. If the Ministry had only bothered to make sense out of this writing!
At last the Ministry somehow seems to have acquired some contact lenses to enable it to read the writing on the wall. Understandably the Director of Land Utilization, Harry Tjipueja, was recently hurriedly dispatched to the Omaheke Region. Brilliant reaction! But with all reactions one does not see much coming from this one. The irregularities seem far too deep-rooted and widespread to warrant only an express visit to a single region. If anything, the shuttle to Omaheke must be the beginning of a serious and widespread concerted effort to overhaul this process.
The problem with resettlement is not only the imbedded corruption, as has been shown lately in the media, but you find real needy landless people crowded and packed together, if not on top of one another, on a piece of land. Meantime the Ministry’s officials grab the rest of thousands of hectares of resettlement land to crown themselves as land barons hiring out this land.
This certainly calls for a no-nonsense approach to this matter. Certainly other anti-graft bodies like the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Ombudsman should be following this saga with a keen eye.