Govt. loses millions to lawyers, banks, evaluators
The Ministry of Lands and Resettlement has failed to utilise the Land Tribunal recommendations made three years ago to deal with illegal proxy ownership of land, as the Registrar of Deeds opens an investigation into lawyers’ involvement in proxy land ownership.
Foreigners who own land through proxies in Namibia have their land administrated by local law firms and in most cases, they agree that the lawyer(s) in charge of the land can take ownership of the piece of land in case of any anomaly to the owner, such as death.
In essence, the Registrar of Deeds, Dana Beukes, confirmed an investigation being underway on several law firms because some lawyers have been conniving with the foreign land owners to create fictitious debts.
These debts, in turn, have been used to sell land at unreasonable prices that are way beyond Government’s budget. In most cases when the farms are being sold to offload the fictitious debts, the owners and their proxies waiver Government, which is by law, the first option to whomever is selling land.
This is happening while the Land Tribunal has turned into a white elephant as they have not adjudicated on any case since its inception in 1992, although disputes over appropriation of land appear frequently.
Government, The Villager understands, received recommendations made by the Land Tribunal three years ago to deal with the holding of land by some foreign nationals through proxies though nothing has been done yet.
Chief among the concerns has been the failure by the Minister of Lands and Resettlement, Alpheus !Naruseb to give the Land Tribunal exclusive power to deal with the land disputes issue. This, according to chairperson of the Tribunal, Dirk Conradie, would give confidence to the people to approach the entity.
“Ever since Government lost the expropriation case against the four Germans four years ago, it has been scared to use the legal expropriation and negotiation,” Conradie asserts adding that: “We (Land Tribunal) made recommendations to Government three years ago, advising the minister to do a thorough audit of the land in the country and proxy-held land but somehow, we believe it has not been done. We can never find a solution through our land reform process because the money will never be there but the most important thing is that Government should utilise the Tribunal, which it is currently not.”
According to him, Government has been negotiating with all it has and this makes it difficult for the country to acquire land because sometimes the land is overpriced.
Although Government has made considerable ground in acquiring farms through the willing buyer-willing seller model, there is still an insatiable desire for land in the country 22 years after independence.
With the current set up, Government has very minimum negotiation power against the owners of commercial land and if a farmer offers the Government land at an inflated price, in return, it just has to buy or drop the bidding if its coffers cannot cater for the payments.
This, according to Conradie, can be reduced if Government offered farmers affordable prices.
“Imagine a white farmer telling Government his farm is worth N$10m and the State cannot stand up and say it can’t afford it and offer something in return. That should be the case and if the farmers do not want to comply, then they should go to the Land Tribunal because the issue of land is a sensitive national issue,” Conradie points out.
In case of disputes over prices, the Tribunal can award an amount equal to or in excess of the amount claimed by the owner, in this case, where the costs will be awarded against the ministry and can award an equal or less than the amount last offered by the ministry, in which case costs will be awarded against the owner.
Government’s land acquisition budget has always been pegged on N$20m annually but was recently adjusted to N$50m; a figure still not good enough for Government to bargain for farms at market price.
Public relations officer in the Ministry of Lands, Chrispin Matongela, says Government has done significantly well to push the land issue without creating many disagreements.
“The fact that to date, we have acquired more than 50 farms in the South and many more elsewhere in the country without disputes, is a clear sign that the land redistribution has been done with concurrence from all parties involved,” said Matongela.
The only challenge Government is facing is that of inflated pricing, according to !Naruseb and this has expanded beyond the land redistribution exercise.
In his motivation for the Property Valuers Proffesional Bill, !Naruseb said, the Bill seeks to provide a legal framework for the regulation of the valuation practice in the public interest through the establishment of a body to be known as the Namibian Council for the Property Valuers Profession.
He says the Bill is a Government innovative policy to redress the issue of high land and property prices through professional accountability and discipline in the provision of valuation services by the property valuation profession.
Namibia does not have a legislation in place to regulate the valuation practice compared to other countries of the world, including the Sadc region.
Said !Naruseb, “This Bill also seeks to protect the valuers from the conduct of non-professionals who have so far tainted the profession. The situation prevailing in the country at present is that property valuation functions are being undertaken by anyone who believes they are competent to provide valuation services. The absence of a legal framework to regulate the practice of property valuation has resulted in property values becoming unrealistically inflated to such an extent that land prices have reached unprecedented levels that are beyond the affordability of the majority of citizens of this country.”
The Bill is to regulate the valuation profession by making professional valuation practitioners accountable for their conduct thereby eliminating incidences of unethical conduct by unqualified people masquerading as valuers.
The Bank of Namibia has often raised a concern that the lack of regulation has resulted in banking institutions conducting valuation in a discretionary manner. This is detrimental to the interest of the public whose money is tied in real estate.
“In the absence of an appropriate and relevant legislation to regulate the valuation profession, we are witnessing the majority of asset-valuation being done by persons who are either registered under the Estate Agency Act or by sworn appraisers registered in terms of the Magistrate Act, with the result being a lack of proper professional accountability on the part of these “valuers,” said !Naruseb.
The requirements laid down for registration as a sworn appraiser in terms of theMagistrate Act do not differentiate between a degree holder and a diploma holder with requisite training in the relevant field. This requirement does not provide for protection or remedy to the general public at large in the case of disputes or unethical behaviour on the part of the appraiser.
“Valuation of property is a subject of vital national importance as it gravely impacts on economic activities relating to property which comprise of land and buildings; plant and machinery; movable property and intangible assets such as the goodwill of a business.
The fiscal and non-fiscal purposes for which valuation services are often required,” added !Naruseb.
The Valuers Council will thus be responsible for registration of professionals, candidates and specified categories in the property-valuation profession and for introducing internationally accepted valuation principles to protect the public from the current unregulated valuation practices in the property and banking industry.