Government is working on a five-year plan to fully operationalise the new law on customary land, one of several that President Peter Mutharika assented to a year ago.
The new customary land law, assented to on February 6 2017, makes it illegal for chiefs to distribute customary land and instead empowers district land registries and committees, which are not yet in place, to administer land.
However, our findings show that in the absence of district registries and committees some chiefs are still allocating land and that land registrars at the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development are still registering it.
Principal Secretary (PS) for Lands and Urban Development Janet Banda, who acknowledged the anomaly in an interview on Tuesday, cautioned the chiefs against allocating land, saying with the new law in place it is illegal for chiefs to do so.
She attributed the delay in establishing the registries to financial constraints and delays in drafting of subsidiary regulations to implement the laws.
According to Banda, government is working on a pilot programme involving seven districts of Chikwawa, Phalombe, Nsanje, Nkhotakota, Rumphi, Kalonga and Kasungu.
“Depending on how the pilot turns out in terms of lessons learnt, the whole programme will be rolled out in all the 28 districts,” she said.
The PS said government has since slowed down on the allocation of customary land and that new applicants would now have to go through committees once the structures are in place, she said.
She explained: “We are now assigning land clerks who are supposed to work with the committees and the clerks from the ministry because we can’t recruit at the moment due to a ban on recruitment by government, so we are going to use officers who already have the skills.”
Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Environment chairperson Victor Musowa, said his committee has also noted the problems besetting operationalising the new land law.
He said with the new land laws in place, some land disputes which were taken to courts are now being referred to district councils and village headmen, but since there are no district committees and trained personnel to deal with the issues at district level, there is no progress on the cases.
Musowa claimed that land grabbing is still rampant and women are the major victims, and urged for the speedy establishment of the appropriate structures.