Valuer-general on the cards for land sales

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform wants to create a “valuer-general” for South Africa to ensure the department sets the “norms and standards” when it comes to the price of land.

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Land reform minister Gugile Nkwinti explained, “We can’t have a situation in our country where the vast majority of our people don’t own land,” and the government can’t access land because prices have been “inflated by valuers who aren’t controlled whatsoever”. This was his response in parliament, when an ANC MEC asked when the department intended to address the “policy constraints” that have “negatively affected” the achievement of the 30% redistribution target, in reference to the willing buyer/willing seller principle .

The department’s ministerial spokesperson, Mtobeli Mxotwa, said the creation of a valuer-general office is one of the proposals contained in the Green Paper, which, he said, would not be tabled this year. “Some property valuers have been over-inflating prices, and so we feel we need a valuer-general to act as ultimate arbiter in the matter of valuations for land that the state wishes to buy,” he explained, adding the willing buyer/willing seller approach would only apply in private transactions.

However, Annette Steyn, DA deputy shadow minister for land reform, said since the department didn’t know how many land claims were outstanding, the establishment of a valuer-general would be a case of putting the cart before the horse. “You don’t know how much land was transferred; you don’t know how much it cost; and you don’t know how much is outstanding. But you do know one thing. The thing that you know is that willing buyer/willing seller doesn’t work. Can you please tell me what method you used to establish that the willing buyer/willing seller model isn’t working?” she asked.

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Agri SA parliamentary spokesperson Annelize Crosby pointed out that, before 1996, an expropriation council oversaw all valuations done for expropriation purposes, and had the necessary expertise to decide whether an offer was fair. If the valuer-general office operates along similar lines, then Agri SA wouldn’t have a problem with it, she said.

However, the union wouldn’t be happy “if the objective was to somehow manipulate the market”. According to Crosby, “the whole slant of the Green Paper seems to be that market prices are too high and that government would really like to drive them down in one way or another.” If the office of valuer-general turns out to be one of the mechanisms used to do this, the union wouldn’t be comfortable with it, she said.

Tasked with writing a “constructive commentary” on the Green Paper, Prof Mohammed Karaan, dean of Stellenbosch University’s agrisciences faculty, said the paper contains some suggestions that might be good for the politics of the agricultural sector, but not for the economics of the sector. “The document is not without merit, but the politics can’t come first, the economics must,” he explained.