Although the performance of our legislators during the ongoing budget season is unpredictable, in the sense that we are witnessing a combination of serious and non-serious sessions, as well as quorum question in some cases, yet there have been occasions of hot and fruitful deliberations worth writing home about.
Debate on the budget proposals for the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development is the best example, as it was exceptionally spirited and fairly constructive.
The central theme of debate was a big number of land conflicts reveling in both rural and urban areas which one outspoken Member of Parliament said were a recipe for a civil war, unless proper measures are taken to nip the problem in the bud.
He cautioned that we should not wait for the Zimbabwean, Kenyan and South African land scenarios and crises to crop up in our land of apparent peace. Several other MPs supported the former and emphatically urged the government to do the necessary.
It is interesting to note that land-related malpractice as well as acts of omission and commission undertaken by administrators as well as any other functionaries with a say on land matters were voiced by MPs from both the ruling party and opposition ones. This is a reflection that problems in this area affect most Tanzanians, irrespective of their political inclination or any other differences.
Due to space limitation one is tempted to highlight a few observations made by our honorable MPs which call for immediate action. First is the need for a proper survey of the national land as a prerequisite for good management and use of these strategic and life-sustaining resources.
Experts in land matters say most of the conflicts on land involving farmers versus livestock keepers, investors in the commercial farming versus smallholder villagers, rich individuals versus poor ones seeking land ownership, military centers versus villagers in the neighbourhood, and many other cases are a result of failure to systematically survey the land and issue proper title deeds.
Ongoing corruption in land allocation is thriving mainly because the land officers are managing land that is not surveyed and have a leeway to tamper with it as much as it suits their interests and those of their partners in corruption. Malpractices like double or triple plots allocation and encroachment on areas earmarked for social centers like schools, dispensaries, public playing grounds etc can only take place under circumstances where users have no proper title deeds.
This situation where a few people with means to buy land and obtain title deeds are now literally grabbing it left, right and centre is now one of the factors widening the gap between the rich and the poor. This is another time bomb waiting to explode as the income gap related contradictions continue to sharpen in our midst. Of course the worst scenario can be avoided if we move fast to change the tide as there is still enough land to enable most Tanzanians to get a fair share of the national land cake.
Noted also by the MPs is the fact that apart from technically living as squatters, those occupying land plots with no title deeds cannot use this valuable possession as collateral to secure bank loans and either develop their land to make it more productive or engage in other forms of business ventures.
This is unfortunate, especially when we have cases of some foreign ‘investors’ who use the acquired land to get loans from local banks and make more money out of simply being enterprising. For how long should we allow this kind of situation to continue?
The conclusion here is that in the final analysis failure to survey the land is more costly than we think, tempting one to remember the late President Julius Nyerere’s words that “it is expensive to be poor”. In other words this work must be done at any cost, a challenge which can be surmounted if we place this objective on the list of our top national priorities.
The government can as well borrow money for the purpose given that the cost sharing formula can help to raise substantial money for payment of the loan. There is no doubt that individuals, institutions and companies benefitting from such an arrangement will be willing and ready to pay for the service.
Time is not on our side on this one and the sooner Professor Anna Tibaijuka and her team in the Ministry take bold moves in this direction the better.
Henry Muhanika is a media consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org