By Lucky Mkandawire, Weekend Nation 17th September 2022
Over 500 households close to Chileka International Airport in Blantyre are tussling with government over its intention to forcefully acquire their land, demolish their houses, and flatten their land and farms for a multibillion dollar hospital project and pharmaceutical company project in Chileka.
The people say although they are delighted with the proposed development in their area, they have “serious reservations” with the manner government is undertaking the process which they allege contravenes the Land Acquisition Act as well as the country’s Constitution.
“The people told Government that they are not interested in their land being taken away and would want government ot find alternative land but in case that is not possible have sought fairness as their lives will be turned upside down” said the Committee representing the people.
Some of the community members in Chileka Government plans to acquire the land for Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (Kuhes) who are working with some Americans to construct a university teaching hospital plus ancillary infrastructure at Chilangoma in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kuntaja. It also plans to build a Pharmaceutical corporation to manufacture drugs.
The compulsory acquisition process begun in June this year when valuers accompanied by officers from Ministry of Lands and Blantyre district commissioner’s office embarked on an assessment exercise to collect data for compensations.
However, the people claim government officers violated their constitutional right during the exercise and have since formed a task force against the acquisition and engaged lawyer Kuleza Phokoso to represent them as “we stand up for fairness in the dealings.”
Chairperson of the task force Ricky Kamtema confirmed the development in an interview saying government wants to grab almost 387 hectares of land “and almost 500 households are affected and will be resettled.”
“We are not against the project but the manner in which officers from the Ministry of Lands, district commissioner’s officer and T/A Kuntaja have undertaken the process all the way from the consultations,” he stated.
Kamtema also said the families have engaged an independent valuer to conduct a separate valuation exercise and produce a report by the end of September.
Kuleza confirmed on Thursday being given instructions to represent the people on the matter saying they are seeking transparency and accountability from government.
“About 500 ordinary villagers and families that have lived in the area for years and call it home will have to leave their land, their graveyards where their ancestors are buried and relocate to be strangers elsewhere and start from scratch.
Said said Phokoso in an interview: “Land is not easy to find and relocation is not easy to do. We are there to make sure the rule of law is respected; their constitutional right to property and not to be arbitrarily deprived of the same is respected as well as the dictates of the Land Acquisition Act are respected.”
The land targeted by government will affect 12 chiefs which include group village head Kammata, chiefs Denga, Mbedza, Kumanda, Tamvekenji, Dzineso, Lemu, Gomeza, Lipugama, Temani, Magombo and Chuma.
The concerns from the people are also contained in a letter dated August 12 2022 which Phokoso wrote to Commissioner of Lands at Ministry of Lands Kwame Ngwira who is currently the ministry’s acting principal secretary (PS).
In his six-page letter, titled “Compulsory Land Acquisition in Chilangoma Area of T/A Kuntaja-Chileka-Blantyre for Hospital City Project by Kamuzu University of Health Sciences”, Phokoso claims the officers tasked with the assessments and data collection “flagrantly disregarded the law eroding the trust of the land owners in the acquisition process.”
Reads the letter: “The officers did not assess correctly loss of occupational rights, loss of land, loss of business, relocation costs, loss of goodwill, cost of professional advice, nuisance, injurious affection, loss of business, loss of reduction of tenure and disturbance in line with Section 10 of the Land Acquisition Act 2022.
“In addition, our clients report incidents of severe intimidation and bullying and threats of expropriation without compensation and the non-inclusion of crucial data regarding their land, property and fixtures thereon.
In an interview yesterday, Nkasala evaded the allegations but confirmed the complaints from the people which he said have affected the mega health project.
“Engagement meetings with the local leadership and community were held and the general consensus was that they welcomed the project. On the basis of this consensus, processes of property assessment for compensation purposes kick started.
“But before a report for the compensations was released by the Ministry of Lands, recently there have been complaints from some sectors of the community who would want the whole exercise of acquiring the land and compensations to stop.”
However, the DC said relevant higher authorities were looking into the matter for an appropriate action and way forward.
But in a separate interview, T/A Kuntaja laughed off the claims of intimidation and challenged the distressed people to officially complain to him and not through the media.
He said: ”Nobody has come to me or the DC’s office to complain. We have had over 20 meetings on the issue so far and everything is in order.”
However our investigations show that the DC had called for a meeting with the aggrieved persons which was attended by KUHES officials including Registrar Orama Lipenga representing Vice Chancellor Proffessor Macdonald Malewa. TA Kuntaja was not invited as he is at the centre of the wrangles.
The acting PS for Lands did not pick our calls after several attempts nor did not respond to our sent to him.
Effort to speak to Minister for Lands Sam Kawale proved futile as he was said to be in Angola reprersenting President Chakwera at a cxeremony there.
However, in his letter to Phokoso dated September 12 2022, Ngwira said information his office received through the Regional Commissioner for Lands (South) was that the assessment of the properties for compensation purposes had not been finalized meaning the project affected persons (PAPs) were not told the values of their pieces of land and/or improvements thereon.
“It is, therefore, surprising to note that the PAPs are intending to engage or have engaged an independent valuer to undertake an assessment of the properties of the PAPs for compensation purposes and to produce an independent valuation report when, in fact, the government valuers have not yet produced their valuation report.
“What are these PAPs dissatisfied with when the values of their pieces of land and/or improvements thereon have not yet been finalized and/or disclosed to them?” he wondered.
But Phokoso is said to have replied to Ngwira that t he law talks about dissatisfaction with the appointment of a Valuer by the Minister. And that a person may appoint a licensed valuer of his choice if not satisfied.
“Our clients are dissatisfied with the Valuers appointed and do not have to wait for their report to exercise their lawful right neither is there such a requirement in the law.” Said Phokoso
He added “ Section 10(2) of the Land Acquisition and Compensation Act 2022 does not provide anywhere that a dissatisfied person must wait and appoint a Valuer after the report of the Minister’s Valuer is released. Valuation is a processes and if the affected person disagrees with the Ministers Valuer at any point he is at liberty to appoint his own per section 10(2). The conditions mentioned in by the Commissioner of Lands are not in the law and reflect the very effort to supress our Cients which they are complaining about.
The 500 Families and villagers have among other things complained about how The Villagers were threatened with all sorts of threats and many were told to shut up not to speak by both the District Commissioner and the Traditional Authority, to the extent that they were told by the Chief that they can relocate even to Zimbabwe they don’t care but should accept the illegal and flawed processed that were being done on their property.
Many times the Valuers without basis and rudely overruled their reporting figures of assets on the ground, engaged in improper counting of assets and inaccurate measurement of land hectarage where in some cases land sizes were reduced contrary to what they actually are .
As a result the villagers decided under Section 10 (2) of the Lands Acquisition Act 2022 to appoint an Independent Licensed Valuer of their Choice to asses and value their respective pieces of Land, fixtures thereon, and any other compensation they may be entitle to in line with the whole prescription of the Land Acquisition Act 2022 and in strictly in compliance with the law.
Government and TA Kuntaja has been blocking them from doing so escalating the wrangles.
Meanwhile CEDEDI has indicated that it will also intervene in the matter to make sure the oppression the villagers are experiences is curbed.