Chiefs in the country now fully embrace the recently passed Land Bill after government’s thorough interpretation of the sections which were perceived sticky.
The chiefs told journalists in Lilongwe on Friday that they were misled by other sectors of the society who despised the Bill as aiming at burdening poor Malawians with tax and relinquishing the chiefs of their powers.
The chiefs’ understanding followed a closed-door engagement they had with the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Atupele Muluzi, and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Sam Tembenu, in Lilongwe aimed at interpreting and clarifying the sections of the Bill.
The chiefs were drawn from across the country and among them were Paramount Chiefs Chikulamayembe of Rumphi, Lundu of Chikhwawa, Senior Chiefs Lukwa of Kasungu and Chikumbu of Mulanje.
The ministers had taken turns to clarify the sections of the Bill stressing the underlying interpretations which they said legally empowered the chiefs on land issues and not taking away their powers as the opposition asserted.
Winding up the meeting before the media, Tembenu assured the chiefs that the provision that there shall be village land committees to be chaired by the chiefs meant that the chiefs would now have the legal mandate on customary land issues and not that it would take away their powers.
In an interview after the meeting the chiefs said they had now understood the contentious issues in the Bill and that they had now embraced it in its entirety.
“We have had a very thorough discussion on the Land Bill issue and all the sticky areas have been clarified and we are satisfied with the clarification,” said Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe.
Senior Chief Chikumbu of Mulanje also hailed the two ministers for the clarification which she said had helped wipe out the fears of the chiefs losing power.
“I was getting calls to say ‘do you know with the passing of the Land Bill you would now be rendered powerless over customary land issues?’ but now with the section-by-section clarification of the Bill today, it’s been clear that we were fed lies,” confessed Chikumbu.
She added, “We can now refer to the same sections to dispute the misleading assertions because the fact that we will be chairing the village land committees still puts us in-charge of customary land issues.”
In an interview, Tembenu said he was very happy that the matter had now been clarified and that the chiefs had now understood and embraced the Bill.
He said the problem with those who were faulting the passing of the Bill was that they did not take time to read it in its totality but rather read it in parts which, on their own, did not give complete intended meaning.
The chiefs have since proposed that there should be heavy sensitization and public awareness of the Land Bill at national level and that it should also be translated into various local languages for all Malawians to understand it fully.
They also proposed further such meetings with the chiefs at regional level for the message to trickle down to all levels of the local authority.
Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Atupele Muluzi, assured the chiefs that he would engage the Ministry of Information Communication, Technology & Civic Education to conduct the public awareness.
The Lands Bill was passed during the recent parliament meeting amid dissatisfaction from the opposition legislators who walked out of the chamber only to come back to find the Bill passed all the same.