Lessons to learn from the on-going Dar es Salaam Land Disputes
(By US Blogger)
I have been following with keen interest the on-going dispute and media frenzy involving the newly appointed Lands, Housing and Human Settlements minister Anna Tibaijuka and a prominent city businessman and advocate, Taher Muccadam.
At the center of this sensational contention is plot number 1006 near the Palm Beach Hotel. According to the Minister, the plot has been an open space for over 30 years and should remain so but per the statements made by Advocate Muccadam, he is the rightful owner of the plot and that he acquired the land following a lengthy due process.
There were several plots that the Minister has expressed desire and intent to seize from private hands but I will focus on this particular plot because this is the plot that got the most media attention. We were able to hear from both sides of this wrangle to give any objective observer a basis to form an informed opinion.
There are many lessons to learn from this on going bicker, lessons which are extremely disturbing. I will jump straight into elaborating what lessons I have learned.
The Government has shown absolute disregard for the judiciary. The plot in question was the subject of a lengthy legal battle at the High Court which culminated into a verdict that the advocate was the rightful owner. The Minister’s decision to demolish the fence walls on a plot makes one wonder where does the Government get the mandate to disrespect and belittle our respected judges and the judicial system as a whole. When suspects of the EPA scam were dragged to court, there was an increased public anxiety and discontent because citizens wanted to see a much quicker and aggressive prosecution of the case. The President gave a highly commendable and rationale response by stating that legal issues must be handled with due diligence otherwise the Government could be vulnerable to substantial lawsuits. A few days ago the Prime Minister made a statement on the decision of the International Chamber of Commerce to award Dowans $124 million, in principle he stated that that Government respects the verdict. These two powerful leaders of the Government have taken a position to respect rule of law even if upholding those values comes with a price. It would have been expected that the rest of the Cabinet would also stand behind this important precedent that is required to build a progressive civil society. To the contrary the Lands Ministry took a decision that is absolutely contradictory to the precedent set by the President and the Prime Minister. The official Government position on the judicial system has been seriously impaired.
This situation can potentially erode investor confidence and be counter productive to Government efforts in enticing investments . One of the functions of most diplomatic missions in the country is to advise their citizens on Tanzanian investment climate and Government actions form a key component in assessing business climate. If a citizen who is an attorney by trade can have his land rights revoked by a Ministerial memo which is contrary to High Court decision why should any vigilant investor expect any assurance for the safety of his investment? This heightened sense of insecurity is also impacting other citizens too because nobody can feel safe and comfortable that the Courts orders would not be honored by authorities. It was reported by the media that the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Lands has ordered Ilala Municipality leaders to revoke the building permit, one does not need a law PhD to figure out that the Government did indeed issue a permit because it is illogical to revoke something that does not exist, until when is the Ministry going to play these games of issuing permits and revoking them at without impunity?
It appears the Government has no real solutions to address land issues. In developed countries one can literally be living in one end of a country and make an effective land or any real estate acquisition in the other end of the country by the use of internet and telephony technologies. A buyer can obtain all information about the asset such as ownership history, property taxes etc prior to making the purchase. This is possible because Government institutions that are responsible to provide these services have processes in place that are customer oriented and they mean business. In Tanzania the Lands Ministry is extremely notorious for inefficiencies and bureaucracy. It is not uncommon to hear of double and triple land allocations, processes are unclear and even documents that are issued from official desks of the Ministry can end up being bogus. For how long will Tanzanians continue to suffer these ridiculous inefficiencies and abuses?
Tanzanian journalism profession has been seriously compromised by incompetent writers, people who call themselves journalists simply because they can compose a few sentences. Some writers have been dancing to the tunes of political populist melodies to the extent of questioning how could the advocate have the nerve to challenge a Minister. They used languages like ‘kutunisha misuli’ and all that crap. Well, to those journalists who equated the advocate’s response to arrogance I have a question for them, doesn’t the Constitution of this country give every citizen the right to initiate a litigation even if the defendant is the Government? How many years do they need to evolve from that primitive colonial mentality that the Government cannot and should not be challenged in the court of law?
There are two main possibilities in this madness, either the Government does indeed issue these plots and building permits and then they turn around to change their position at a cost to citizens or another possibility is that those who claim to own the plots do so on the basis of fraudulently acquired documents. If the Government has indeed issued these rights the Government must honor and keep its word and stop this madness of tearing down properties that they themselves approved to be erected. If they want to entertain the culture of inconsistency and unpredictability the Government must be prepared to compensate the affected parties according to the law.
If the plot owners have fake documents I challenge the Government to prosecute all such land owners for fraud first before resorting to forceful nationalization in the name of re-acquiring Government properties. At least this way the Government will have proven beyond reasonable doubt that the culprits are actually land owners and not its own decision making officials and it will be a manifestation of respecting the legal process. If the Government took the steps to prosecute EPA suspects for fraud as a step towards recovering the stolen money why doesn’t the Government apply the same principle and observe rule of law in disputed land deals? Why double standards?
I wish all bloggers happy holidays and a prosperous 2011.
COURTESY OF DR. SHAABAN NZORI.