Let land be vested in the President

Banner 3
Banner 3

/www.daily-mail.co.zm” class=”f”>Zambia Daily Mail by Online Editor on 6/16/13

LAST weekend Senior Chief Puta of the Bwile people of Chienge district, Luapula Province, expressed discomfort with article 294 of the draft constitution, which vests land in the President, saying it has the potential to cause tension in the country.
Clause (1) of the article says, “Land in Zambia is vested in the President and is held by the President in trust for, and on behalf of, the people of Zambia.”
But Chief Puta feels once passed with the article in its current form the new constitution will give the President too much power over this vital natural resource, reducing chiefs to mere surrogate custodians.
Chief Puta said his fears are shared by other chiefs and called for the Technical Committee on the Drafting of the Constitution to revisit the article.
His suggestion is that certain categories of land such as shrines and ancestral forests must be vested in chiefs in the new constitution.
The other premise the chief is using for his opposition to this particular article is that chiefs currently derive their respect and loyalty among their subjects from the power they wield over land.
Whether Chief Puta’s apprehension is shared by all the 288 traditional leaders is subject to confirmation, but I think his fears are unfounded.
His royal highness seems to have overlooked one fact; that even the chiefs’ current land alienation power is delegated and not substantive under the Lands Act.
Under clause (3) of article 294 of the draft Constitution the President is free to delegate his powers to the Commissioner of Lands, chiefs or local authorities.
“The President may, through the Lands Commissioner, chiefs or local authorities, alienate to citizens or non-citizens, as provided by this Constitution and by or under an Act of Parliament,” the clause says.
The individual citizens and groups who made this particular submission must have had only one thing in mind – to safeguard the interests of Zambians.
Vesting land in chiefs would be highly risky. It is not necessary.
Already, under the Lands Act the chiefs enjoy significant powers to allocate land to individuals or entities on behalf of the President. Even under this arrangement the power to issue certificate of title is entrusted with the President through the Ministry of Lands as his agent.
The law, however, puts a cap to the size of customary land a chief may allocate.
I strongly feel that all land must be vested in the President as proposed in the draft Constitution. I am anchoring my position on clause (2), which says “all land in Zambia shall be administered and controlled for the use or common benefit, direct or indirect, of the people of Zambia.”
This clause supersedes all the reasons the chiefs may advance for demanding absolute jurisdiction over land.
The President will be in the best position to safeguard the common benefit of the people because he or she will have state institutions and legislation at his or her disposal to rely on for expert advice on land alienation and usage.
There will also be the legislature to check him or her should he or she act outside the constitution in the management of the resource.
The fact that article 294 acknowledges the existence of customary land and gives chiefs the power to manage it on behalf of the President is enough.
Vesting land in chiefs, which will automatically give them absolute and ultimate jurisdiction over the natural resource, could put the interests of ordinary Zambians at great risk.
In recent years the media have been awash with reports of some chiefs selling or allocating huge tracts of land to the rich and powerful indiscriminately, mostly for their personal benefit, displacing the same subjects they are expected to be protecting.
It’s not too long ago when Government had to reverse the illegal allocation of hundreds of hectors by a chief in North-Western Province to a mining company.
Let the land, therefore, be vested in the President.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail Editorial and Analysis Editor.