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Clash over land
20 February 2014, 12:54:48
According to the Lands Commissioner, this illegal land allocation has flourished because there has been no action by city and municipal councils to control the building of illegal structures upon the lands in question.

He said, ‘The powers I have as commissioner are simply to allocate land on behalf of the President, or to confirm who the legal owner is. From where I sit, there is really no doubt or dispute about who owns what land.’

Commissioner Mulenga says Councils work as ‘agents’ of the Ministry of Lands and under such delegated authority will normally carry out land demarcations under the Planning Department of the Ministry of Local Government and Housing.

Concerning such illegal structures, he emphasized: ‘Only the council has the power to move in and demolish structures for which building plans have not been officially approved. Councils have power to stop even a titleholder from building if he/she has not yet gotten planning permission.’ Mulenga warns people involved in illegal land allocation and in building illegal structures that they should be aware that, one way or the other, the law will finally catch up with them.

He explained that his office has not been sitting idle in matters of land disputes, that when his office receives a complaint the department will normally write letters to councils and to the Zambia Police Service requesting them to take action to protect the legal land owners.

‘The bottom line is that if vendor, occupier, or purchaser cannot produce official documentation to show he has legal status, then one is taking a legal or safety risk.’

Mulenga said he welcomed the timely comments made by Home Affairs minister Edgar Lungu that the police had, regrettably, developed a culture of not following up on land invasions by political party cadres due to the wish to safeguard their own jobs. He said police can easily use the law prohibiting ‘criminal Trespass’, to establish who was subdividing and selling land illegally.

‘If they find the culprits, they can prosecute and have them sent to jail. That is the role of the Police.’

He pointed out that Landowners too had an obligation to enforce their rights by reporting the ‘invaders’ to police, by suing them for trespass, and even reporting them to the councils to have any illegal structures erected demolished.

He quipped, ‘You can’t buy land like you’re buying a pair of trousers or items of clothing. Land development requires that after you have found an empty piece of land, you first make a search at the Ministry of Lands, confirm whoever the owner of that ‘empty’ piece of land might be, and whether they have legal title to it. If the owners have title to it, only then can you engage into a sale or purchase transaction.’

The Commissioner noted that quite often, people that buy land illegally are aware
of what they are doing, but they choose to go ahead and build upon it, then afterwards
come to visit the commissioner’s offices to try and regularize the illegality.

‘To come to me and say let’s regularize ownership of land which you have encroached upon, is to make me an accessory to a crime. I say ‘No!’

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