By Mbatjiua Ngavirue
The Ministry of Lands and Resettlement and the Omaheke Regional Council have conflicting explanations for why the degree of transparency and accountability in the land resettlement process has dropped drastically in recent years.
The Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation – as it was called then – used to publish full-page advertisements in the media announcing the allocation of resettlement farms right up to March 2002.
The newspaper advertisements used to include information such as the name of the resettlement beneficiary, region of allocation, name of farm and farming unit allocated.
They also used to include the size of the farming unit allocated, sex and number of dependants of the recipient and whether the beneficiary previously worked as an employee on the farm.
The ministry then abruptly ended this practice, without ever offering the public a proper explanation for its decision.
For a few years, the ministry continued posting notices in its regional offices announcing successful resettlement applicants, but seems to have abandoned this practice also.
Now the entire process seems shrouded in cloak and dagger secrecy, with the Namibian people kept in the dark like mushrooms.
The news has gradually leaked out that the Land Reform Advisory Commission (LRAC) allocated a substantial number of resettlement farms in the Omaheke Region in July, highlighting the secrecy surrounding the process.
Most Namibians appear completely unaware of the July allocations of resettlement farms in Omaheke.
Several people in the region New Era spoke to grumbled about the lack of transparency shown by a ministry responsible for distributing precious and strategic national assets.
The Ministry of Lands and Resettlement and the Omaheke Regional Council seem sharply divided on who is responsible for the current state of affairs.
Ministry officials responded to early inquiries about why they do not announce successful resettlement applicants, by saying the allocations are a private matter between the ministry and the beneficiary.
The ministry itself now seems to have belatedly realised that arguing the distribution of national assets as a private matter between two parties is unsustainable, quietly dropping the argument altogether.
Ministry of Lands Media Liaison Officer Crispin Matongela now argues that the responsibility for announcing resettlement beneficiaries no longer lies with the ministry.
He said the responsibility for announcing successful candidates shifted to regional governments with the implementation of Central Government’s decentralisation policy.
Until recently, the ministry sent individual letters prepared for each successful applicant to the Governor’s office in the region concerned.
The Governor then had the task of forwarding these letters to each successful applicant.
He however said the ministry experienced slight problems with the arrangement because some beneficiaries never received their letters.
What the ministry currently does is send the letters for successful applicants to its regional offices, from where they forward them to individuals – only sending a copy of each letter to the Governor’s office.
“We can’t dictate to the regional governments. We don’t want to meddle in the affairs of the regions,” he said.
Matongela however conceded that since LRAC has the power to set conditions for the granting of resettlement farms, it should also have the power to compel regional governments to publicly announce successful applicants.
Omaheke Regional Governor Laura McLeod-Katjirua appeared slightly taken aback – if not shocked – when she heard Matongela’s explanation.
McLeod said the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement has always been, and continues to be, the custodian of all land in Namibia.
“They are the custodians of land, and at no time did they transfer that responsibility to regional governments. They are just trying to pass the buck onto someone else,” she said.
She said that until central government formally implements decentralisation in land administration, regional governments only play an advisory role.
“Through a process of mutual co-operation we co-ordinate activities in certain areas, but we have no power to make anything more than recommendations. Who are we in this process?” she asked.
Regional governments are currently in a process of consultation with Central Government about what functions should be decentralised to the regions.
“But if that constitutes actual decentralisation, then I am perhaps a layman on the subject,” McLeod said.
Regina Ndopo-Lubinda, Director for Decentralisation at the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, backed McLeod’s position.
She agreed the lands ministry gave regional governments responsibility over certain limited tasks.
The ministry usually did this through an informal working relationship, which worked well in some regions, but not so well in others.
The issue of decentralisation with regard to land administration cropped up a few months ago with allegations that resettlement official, Erastus Nghishoono, had run riot in Omaheke Region.
At the time, ministry officials obliquely tried to hint that part of the blame for Nghishoono’s alleged misdemeanours lay with the regional government.
Lands officials said Government put in place a system of dual reporting, whereby the regional government had equal responsibility for supervising Nghishoono.
Governor McLeod, however strenuously denied this assertion saying she would never dream of entering the lands ministry’s office in Gobabis to interfere with the work of officials.
“I have no authority to do that, and would never even think of doing that,” she said.
Ndopo-Lubinda agreed, saying there is a very strict formal process that takes place before true decentralisation becomes a reality. Cabinet has to issue a directive announcing the date on which it will officially delegate an official or function to a region.
The relevant line ministry will then follow this up with a formal letter handing its official over to the region.