‘Land man­age­ment is vi­tal’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

THE Land Ad­min­is­tra­tion Author­ity (LAA) on 15 June 2016 cel­e­brated its sixth an­niver­sary. The LAA was es­tab­lished fol­low­ing the en­act­ment of the Land Ad­min­is­tra­tion Author­ity Act of 2010, chang­ing the way Ba­sotho had al­ways re­lated to this very crit­i­cal re­source. LAA Di­rec­tor-gen­eral and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Mr Ma­hashe Chaka speaks to Le­sotho Times ( LT) re­porter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, about the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s achieve­ments and chal­lenges and what the fu­ture holds for this very im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tion.

LT: The Land Ad­min­is­tra­tion Author­ity is cel­e­brat­ing six years of ex­is­tence this year, and the jour­ney must have been a chal­leng­ing one con­sid­er­ing the changes that have taken place in re­la­tion to the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s estab­lish­ment…

Chaka: Let me start by giv­ing you a fair over­view of the land sec­tor in Le­sotho. Le­sotho op­er­ates what we call a lease­hold sys­tem ver­sus free­hold, which means we only is­sue user rights. The land be­longs to Ba­sotho. It’s held in trust by the King on be­half of the Ba­sotho na­tion. Any­one who uses our land, we ac­tu­ally just con­fer you rights to use that land.

There­fore, we lease the land to you. This is where the term lease­hold comes from and is en­shrined in our Con­sti­tu­tion – Sec­tion 107, which is our supreme law. As a sov­er­eign state draw­ing all our laws from the Con­sti­tu­tion, we had the Land Act of 1979 which first for­malised a lease as a doc­u­ment. A lease is a sim­ple agree­ment of the user rights.

The gov­ern­ment, on be­half of the Ba­sotho na­tion, grants you cer­tain rights to land. The rights are in terms of res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial use. In the Land Act of 1979, that’s where the is­suance of a lease was started. A Mosotho would be called a leasee and on be­half of the gov­ern­ment, we have the le­as­sor. The two then sign a con­tract or agree­ment which has a time­frame. That means af­ter a par­tic­u­lar pe­riod of time, you re­new that con­trac­tual agree­ment.

LT: So what was wrong with the Land Act of 1979?

Chaka: Ev­ery­thing was okay un­til late 2006 when there were some is­sues in terms of eco­nomic growth. There were some stud­ies done by both the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho and the United States of Amer­ica. Those stud­ies re­vealed that there were some im­ped­i­ments to eco­nomic growth, among them the is­suance of a lease. The lease was a bit of a prob­lem to get; it was tak­ing too long. But there was a Depart­ment of Lands Sur­veys and Phys­i­cal Plan­ning (LSPP) un­der the Min­istry of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment and Chief­tain­ship. Like most civil ser­vants, try­ing to keep up with pres­sure to get im­proved ser­vice-de­liv­ery was a chal­lenge. Af­ter the stud­ies had shown that the is­sue of eco­nomic growth was be­ing ham­pered by the is­suance of a lease, gov­ern­ment had to do some­thing about it. The mat­ter was in­cluded in re­forms the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho en­tered into with the Mil­len­nium Chal­lenge Ac­count - Le­sotho pro­ject funded by the Mil­len­nium Chal­lenge Cor­po­ra­tion, which is a depart­ment in the US gov­ern­ment. The deal was then signed in 2006. The rest, as they say, is his­tory.

In the three spheres the pro­ject was cen­tred around, was a pri­vate sec­tor devel­op­ment which had what you call the Land Ad­min­is­tra­tion Re­form pro­ject as a sub­sec­tor. The pro­ject then had two main ac­tiv­i­ties; we had to re­view the Land Act of 1979, and af­ter the re­view, we had to come up with an im­ple­ment­ing en­tity. That’s how the Land Act of 2010 came into be­ing. But try­ing to re­form the Land Act of 1979 was not easy. You can ask the peo­ple who were in par­lia­ment dur­ing that ses­sion and they will tell you it was very dif­fi­cult. But our Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment even­tu­ally ap­proved the Land Act of 2010 on 16 June 2010. The Land Ad­min­is­tra­tion Author­ity Act of 2010, on the other hand, had also been ap­proved on 15 June 2010. That’s the or­der in which the two Acts came out.

LT: But was it nec­es­sary for the gov­ern­ment to es­tab­lish the LAA?

Chaka: The en­tity was es­tab­lished to en­sure the ex­e­cu­tion of putting into place the re­formed Land Act of 2010, and the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho was ap­plauded for es­tab­lish­ing the LAA. Le­sotho is the only coun­try in Africa which has done this. All the other coun­tries have had re­forms but they have never also en­acted an im­ple­ment­ing en­tity to put the re­forms into place. That is where they are hav­ing prob­lems. A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple is Kenya. They have the best land re­forms but they did not have an im­ple­ment­ing en­tity, which is why they are hav­ing prob­lems. We re­formed the land law and then put into place an im­ple­ment­ing agency to carry the re­forms for­ward. That’s what makes us unique in Africa and the world. And the re­sults are glar­ingly there.

Let’s look at what the gov­ern­ment was really look­ing for. It was look­ing at a pos­i­tive im­pact on eco­nomic growth. That means we had to speed up the time for is­su­ing leases. I’m glad to say we have really reached the gov­ern­ment’s ob­jec­tive in this re­gard. We have re­duced that from a year to 30 days or less. And when we started is­su­ing leases, peo­ple started to ques­tion their au­then­tic­ity. That’s be­cause they were not used to get­ting them in less than a month.

But really this is a big mile­stone for the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho. And then in­clu­sive in the re­form are deeds, which come in the form of mort­gages and sub­leases. The re­form made sure that the min­is­ter takes off the re­spon­si­bil­ity and del­e­gate it down to the Author­ity, such that there is no longer what you call the min­is­te­rial con­sent that would take an­other two to three years.

LT: How long do you process the deeds?

Chaka: If you have ev­ery­thing in or­der, it takes us a week to reg­is­ter a deed. We have pos­i­tively worked on the deeds pro­cess­ing. The whole idea is to say the en­vis­aged eco- nomic growth by the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho has since been re­alised on that front. Ba­si­cally we are say­ing in the past six years we have really made it easy for our fel­low cit­i­zens to get their land rights and reg­is­ter their prop­er­ties in a timely and trans­par­ent man­ner.

LT: What about the is­sue of em­pow­er­ing women by reg­is­ter­ing their land rights?

Chaka: Gen­der-equal­ity is a na­tional agenda and we have con­trib­uted very pos­i­tively in this re­gard be­cause in the six years of our op­er­a­tions, 74 per­cent of women who ap­plied own leases now. In our leases, we write both spouses. Whether you are mar­ried out of prop­erty or in com­mu­nity of prop­erty both names ap­pear on the lease. That is such a big change. We have been ap­plauded for this. The other is­sue is im­proved ser­vice de­liv­ery, which the gov­ern­ment wanted turned around.

We are do­ing very well in terms of that man­date by curb­ing a lot of fraud. We may not be up there in the pub­lic arena by pub­li­ciz­ing a lot of peo­ple that we ap­pre­hend here with fraud­u­lent transactions, but we do clamp them all the time. We pro­tect the pub­lic in terms of im­proved ser­vice de­liv­ery. We are work­ing closely with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. The pub­lic is gen­er­ally happy with what we do.

LT: What was the sit­u­a­tion like be­fore 2006?

Chaka: Be­fore 2006, women were mi­nors. They could not en­ter into any con­trac­tual agree­ment in re­la­tion to land. Only men ap­peared on the lease. Men were the only ones who could sign. Be­fore LAA, there was re­sis­tance by LSPP, be­ing civil ser­vants at the time, to en­force that 2006 law – Ca­pac­ity of Mar­ried Per­sons Act 2006. The law was al­ready there but they didn’t im­ple­ment it. But when the LAA came, we se­ri­ously im­ple­mented it. Our ar­gu­ment as tech­nocrats in the land sec­tor is that land is a fi­nite re­source and we need to be se­ri­ous when we deal with it.

Land ad­min­is­tra­tion is vi­tal. The man­age­ment of cli­mate change is piv­otal. If we don’t man­age our emis­sions and at the rate at which the pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing, we will not have enough land to grow food to feed our­selves. The to­pog­ra­phy of our coun­try is 60 per­cent moun­tain­ous. We need to live on the re­main­ing 40 per­cent.

LT: Other than the chiefs, are there other stake­hold­ers you work with?

Chaka: We are work­ing with other stake­hold­ers in the land sec­tor to try and re­duce bu­reau­cracy. We are at the very early stages of as­sist­ing the gov­ern­ment achieve this, to­gether with other mem­bers in the land sec­tor. We have estate agents but much as it’s not our man­date per se, we are trained to make sure ev­ery­one in the land sec­tor has a clear line of reg­u­la­tion, whether it’s by us or gov­ern­ment or some­one else. We are en­sur­ing that the land sec­tor achieves sta­bil­ity. We are try­ing to im­prove as much trans­parency as it can pos­si­bly be, to really achieve gov­ern­ment’s man­date of ser­vice-de­liv­ery. We again have what we call stake­holder-man­age­ment. Our stake­holder-man­age­ment struc­ture starts with the (com­mu­nity) coun­cils. We work with the coun­cils; we are part of them through­out. Our stake­holder man­age­ment is at its best.

And then we have other ex­ter­nal stake­hold­ers like the United Na­tions Global Geospa­tial In­for­ma­tion Man­age­ment ((UN-GGIM), of which I’m the co-chair­man along­side the Nether­lands. We ad­vise the UN in terms of how to glob­ally man­age the ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion sys­tem. We have proved knowl­edge is not about the size of a coun­try. We had more res­onate ex­per­tise in terms of land ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Sooner or later, our cit­i­zens will be part of the global vil­lage on the world’s best GIS (Global In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem) plat­forms. For us, to know land ad­min­is­tra­tion prin­ci­ples is a must. The Nether­lands is our teacher in this re­gard. They have the best pro­grammes in land ad­min­is­tra­tion. LAA op­er­ates with skilled peo­ple; that’s why our work is easy. If you think train­ing is a waste of money and time, try the costs of ig­no­rance. We pri­or­i­tize our cus­tomers. We treat ev­ery­body like he or she is the last one.

LT: What can we ex­pect from the LAA over the next six years?

Chaka: In the next six years, we are now get­ting to the cur­rent wave of liv­ing, which is in­ter­ac­tive life. We want peo­ple to in­ter­act their land is­sues on their mo­bile phones. The next life is called in­ter­ac­tive life. You have to be con­nected to some­thing for you to ac­cess some­thing. The world is man­aged in­ter­ac­tively.

We are go­ing to try and get tech­nol­ogy used around the world to be up to that speed in terms of in­fra­struc­ture. We will then try to get the gen­eral pub­lic to un­der­stand what we have. Peo­ple al­ready have cell­phones; they should be able to in­ter­act with us.

LAA Di­rec­tor-gen­eral and CEO Ma­hashe Chaka.

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