Salom Haidula | www.namibian.com.na | 26 October 2012
The Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development has expressed the desire to bring to a halt the auctioning of land with a view to making urban land cheaper and more accessible for low-income earners and young professionals.
The decision of the minister is one that is commendable but the question as to when a legislative framework will be put in place is one that needs urgent attention considering Article 16 of the Namibian Constitution which protects property regimes. Might I add that the said Article protects ownership of land acquired by legal as well as unfair (land expropriated from the indigenous peoples) means, which makes the implementation of the decision even more urgent.
I purposely used the word land acquired 'unfairly' as opposed to illegally because the colonial masters during their reign put in place a legal framework which enabled them to conquer land and as a result their actions might have been morally wrong but not necessarily illegal when measured against the laws of the day.
Urban land prices are increasingly becoming commodified and transactions pertaining to land are driven by financial logic as opposed to the needs of the landless. Being a student of local government I would be remiss if I fail to bring to the reader's attention that local authorities are obliged to source revenue. However there must be some limits to the need for sourcing revenue and thereby prevent the manipulation and use of local authority resources as a means for commercial ends. The trick is achieving a balance between land on the market and land kept aside for the public good.
Upon completion of the legal framework that will guide the selling of land by treaty, it is imperative for mechanisms to be put in place that will ensure that land transactions in urban areas take place within the realms of officially recognised systems of land management and property ownership. With clear land policies, municipalities are able to balance the needs of all people living in a city or town irrespective of their standing in society or financial muscle.
Political influence, corruption and a lack of resources and capacity can impact negatively upon the state's role in the urban land market, often to the detriment of poor people. By releasing land onto the market or keeping it out of the market, the state can substantially change the supply of land and as a result, change its price. In theory, increasing the supply of land can have the positive effect of reducing the land price, thus making it affordable for poorer people. But because of market failures and corrupt practices, this does not necessarily reflect the reality in African urban land markets.
Key to the minister's intended course of action of making urban land available to the poor and young professionals should be preventing monopolies, cartels and other market players from using their power to set prices or output in the market. The need for government intervention cannot be over-emphasised because such an intervention will, if implemented correctly, ameliorate social inequalities through asymmetries in the land market by providing reasonable access to options for land and housing to all income groups. Furthermore the said intervention should be geared towards lowering legal, administrative, operational and financial barriers to entry for the marginalised populations.
As commendable as this decision is one cannot shy away from the fact that it might distort the market. Distortion however can be justified when the intervention causing the distortion leads to societal returns greater than those lost as a result of the distortion. To do this one has to be able to recognise and measure the impact of the distortion. If the state's intervention distorts the market to the degree that exchange, input and economic efficiency are not attained, this results in market failure.
Considering the skyrocketing and ludicrous prices of land, had the minister failed to act this could have been interpreted as a show of disdain towards the feelings of the youth and landless. There is a need for local authority officials to meet the minister half way as failure to do so may be classified as local authorities being on the wrong side of being right. In as much as the minister may be applauded for doing his homework, sometimes doing it is not enough unless it is done diligently and this is surely one of those cases.
* The writer has a B-Juris and LLB (Honours), is a final year student in a Diploma in Local Government and is a Legal Officer in the Namibian Police. The views in this opinion piece are his own.