20 November 2012

Namibia: Ministry Closes Loopholes in Buying of Land

LAND owners who won’t allow the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement to inspect their farms will be fined N$20 000 or more if proposed changes to the Agricultural Land Reform Act become law.

This is to force land owners who “without justifiable cause refuse to consent to the inspection of their land by the Minister for purposes of acquisition”.

Lands and Resettlement Minister Alpheus !Naruseb argues in a Cabinet submission that this is necessary to stop farm owners from refusing to allow the government to inspect their properties. The ministry plans to amend, as a matter of urgency, two Land Acts after identifying legal loopholes in the acts, which the ministry says have slowed the implementation of the land reform programme.

Land reform consists of two different strategies: resettlement, and transfer of commercially viable agricultural land. Resettlement is aimed at improving the lives of displaced or dispossessed previously disadvantaged Namibians.

The two Acts are the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act of 1995 and the Communal Land Reform Act of 2000.

According to the ministry, amendments to the two Acts should be effected as a matter of urgency and “cannot wait for the finalisation of the draft bill on the consolidation of the two land Acts as the latter is expected to take some time before finalisation”.

In terms of the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act, !Naruseb has proposed an amendment that will “oblige companies and close corporations (CCs) to offer their agricultural land first to the State regardless of whether controlling interest is created or not”.

The Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) is of the view that this recommendation could create “a lot of technical problems”.

“Our recommendation is that the government should execute their preferential right in the case of the transfer of the controlling shareholding and interest but that more strict controls should be implemented to enforce this regulation,” said Sakkie Coetzee, NAU executive manager.

!Naruseb has also proposed that new provision be added that would enable the State to exercise its preferential right to agricultural land where such land is alienated in the administration of a deceased’s estate or in accordance with a redistribution of assets in such estate between heirs and beneficiaries.

Coetzee says the Constitution makes provision that property, inclusive of agricultural land, can be bequeathed and that NAU is of the opinion that this constitutional right should not be jeopardised.

“If the heirs and legatees will elect to dispose of the agricultural land, it should be required to offer same to the government to exercise its right of first refusal,” he said.

He adds that in the case of the administration of a deceased estate, or in accordance with a redistribution of assets where the will of the deceased stipulates that the agricultural land must be sold and the proceeds be divided between the beneficiaries of the estate, “the agricultural land concerned may be alienated without having to offer it to Government and to obtain a waiver”.

!Naruseb also wants provision made to provide for the issuing of a certificate of exemption to commercial farm owners having agreements with previously disadvantaged Namibians (Affirmative Action buyers) to purchase their farms.

“We agree with the issuing of the certificate of exemption in the case of affirmative action buyers,” said Coetzee.

According to !Naruseb, this will mean the formalisation of the certificate of exemption which previously was issued by the minister but withdrawn because it was deemed contrary to the law or alternatively, amendments can be effected to the waiver certificate to include a clause that will enable the Minister to waive the State’s preferential right (Under Section 17) in favour of affirmative action buyers.

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