The Herald (Harare)

1 January 2013

Zimbabwe: 'Hands Off BIPPA Farms'

GOVERNMENT has stopped the acquisition of farms covered under Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement as the State strives to manage its liability. The State has also revoked offer letters for 55 A1 farmers allocated pieces of land at Tavydale Farm in Mazowe district.

This is part of Government's efforts to observe agreement entered into under BIPPA.

Lands, Land Reforms and Resettlement Minister Hebert Murerwa yesterday said while the law conferred Government with powers to acquire any land, it had decided to put on hold acquiring of farms under BIPPA.

Agreements under BIPPA require that Government pay fair compensation in currency of the former owner's choice for both land and improvements.

Minister Murerwa said the decision to stop acquiring BIPPA farms was in respect of the agreement while managing State liability.

He said Government was saddled with a US$25 million debt owed to 40 Dutch farmers.

The farmers successfully sued at the International Court for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

"Although under Zimbabwean law, Government can legally acquire such farms, in view of the ongoing litigation in the ISCID, Government has taken the decision not to settle persons on farms covered by BIPPA for now," said Minister Murerwa.

"Government will abide by the provision of the agreement and at the same time we do not want to increase our liability."

Some of the countries covered by BIPPA include Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Malaysia and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Minister Murerwa said Government would have to find alternative land for the affected A1 farmers.

"At Tavydale farm, a decision has been made by myself and the Mashonaland Central Governor and Resident Minister Martin Dinha that we will not settle farmers on the property," he said.

Minister Murerwa said the offer letters issued by Mazowe district administrator Ms Shelter Nyakudya were done in error.

"That was not authorised. The DA should have checked with the Governor's office. She has no authority to issue offer letters for farms covered under BIPPA," Minister Murerwa said.

The revocation has, however, riled the affected farmers.

The farmers said Government, instead of ensuring that the white commercial farmer, Mr Peep Mattison, compensated them for destroying their crops, was actually revoking their licences.

They said it was not their fault that they were erroneously issued with offer letters.

"We secured loans from commercial banks on the strength of those offer letters. How are we expected to service the loans," said one farmer, Mr Felix Mshambodza.

He said it was strange that Governor Dinha, DA, and other political leaders in the province had actually led them on the farm but had made an about-turn on the same.

Governor Dinha said he stood by the letter indicating that the farm was covered by a BIPPA.

"I have delegated powers, my letter was very clear that, our principal has taken a position that the farm should not be acquired for resettlement. Ask the Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement," said Governor Dinha.

Mr Mattison lost a High Court bid to evict the farmers after it ruled that his case was not urgent.

In his judgment, Justice Francis Bere castigated Government officials for failing to speak with one voice.

The judge said there was a need for Government departments not to issue conflicting signals.

He said the A1 farmers had been at the property for more than one year, but Mr Mattison sought to have them evicted on a certificate of urgency.

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