Questions about Zim government’s land restoration plans

Questions about Zim government’s land restoration plans
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The Zimbabwean government has announced a legal framework to restore ownership rights to individuals and companies that lost farms over the past 20 years, in terms of the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements.

A body representing these property owners, however, expressed dissatisfaction about what it said was the selective approach by authorities to paying compensation.

This followed the recent publishing of a statutory instrument in the Zimbabwean Government Gazette under which the government sought to restore or offer alternative land to individuals and companies whose properties were “protected under bilateral investment protection and promotion agreements when it was acquired since 2000”.

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In terms of the statutory instrument, “indigenous” farmers whose land was also taken for resettlement stand a chance to be paid full compensation, regain their farms or get alternative land.

However, Ben Gilpin, director of the country’s Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU), told Farmer’s Weekly that the government needed to find a way to pay compensation to all categories of farmers who lost their properties instead of being selective.

“We are yet to get a full legal opinion, but even before then it seems the statutory instrument will be challenged in terms of its legality,” he said.

“It arises out of the work of the land commission, which does not have legal status. Also, this latest proposal requires much more than a statutory instrument. They can go further to come up with an act of parliament for the proposal to be adequate.”

The government estimated that 197 out of 258 properties amounting to a combined 977 000ha were acquired over the past 20 years. Zimbabwe has such agreements with Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Malaysia, and Switzerland.

In terms of the agreements, the government was bound to pay full compensation, in foreign currency, for land and improvements to these farmers.

The government had failed to do so, which forced a group of 40 Dutch farmers to take the matter to the International Court for the Settlement of International Investment Disputes, where they won a US$25 million (about R405 million) settlement in April 2009.

Gilpin said more clarity was, however, needed on the question of “indigenous” farmers whose land ownership rights the new policy sought to restore.

“The statutory instrument seeks to address the rights of two categories of farmers, but our concern is that those who bought farms after independence in 1980 with the full consent of the government are being excluded. This approach is not in line with international best practices.”

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