President Hage Geingob announced on Wednesday that the Land Bill, which was to be tabled in parliament for finalisation soon, has been placed on ice till further notice.
We see many positives from this announcement. Chiefly, the decision reaffirms that our government continues to listen to the people that voted it into power and – secondly – the decision provides a platform for further engagement as we seek to produce a watertight piece of legislation.
There have been calls for the Bill to be postponed until the watershed second national land conference, slated for this September, takes place.
After the President made the announcement, some members of the opposition and other like-minded groupings celebrated and claimed credit for the decision when in fact such was never in their ambit, power or jurisdiction.
Simply put, it is not their victory. Government gets blamed for bad decisions, sometimes unfairly, but when good decisions, such as this postponement, are made the shine is stolen away from government – and in broad daylight. It is hypocrisy in its purest form.
In truth, the idea to table the Land Bill before the land conference takes place was laughable. Land is the single biggest catalyst of political and tribal divisions currently experienced in Namibia and this year presents a heaven-sent opportunity to put this subject to bed once and for all.
We are increasingly becoming the butt of every joke because of our evident failure to ensure that a paltry 2.3 million population of a country twice the size of Germany all have fair access to land, residential or otherwise. For dummies, Germany has a population of 80 million people which does not endure the same headache regarding land.
Both the Bill and the envisaged conference present a rare opportunity to get things right as far as land is concerned. Government leaders, including President Geingob, are on record conceding that the current land policy is too slow and, therefore, ineffective.
With that confession comes the need for us to put things straight. Government recognises this need and has demonstrated that by aggressively driving the Land Bill, as well as putting in place efforts to hold another land conference later in the year.
The 1991 national land conference must be called for what it really is – a missed opportunity. It failed to address issues of residential land, especially in urban areas, and its flagship blueprint, the willing-buyer-willing-seller policy has been, as Donald Trump would say, a total disaster.
This is the time to rectify the wrongs of the past. Real input would come from the September conference and such ideas must be incorporated into the Land Bill before it goes to parliament.
Pushing the Bill through before the conference took place would have sparked serious doubts about the authenticity and genuineness of the process.
The fact that the Namibian constitution is silent on land itself, and only makes direct reference to land in the context of traditional authorities and natural resources, means something radical has to happen with our laws. And this is where the Land Bill, with global input from all interested parties at the land conference, comes in.