‘Land management is vital’
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.