Monday, July 22, 2024

How to legally trick land from the state – and keep it

Are you in the process of applying for an industrial or commercial plot or plan to do so in the near future? Would you want to enhance your chances of getting more land than would be the case under normal circumstances? Then follow the following steps to the letter but please don’t thank us afterwards because what you would have done is immoral. FYI: the sources for this information are people who work or have worked in the Ministry of Lands as either civil servants or landboard members.

Step 1: When the Ministry of Lands or any landboard advertises for industrial or commercial plots, put in an application in which you claim that you want to set aside a portion of that plot for use by vulnerable groups like children, the disabled, orphans or the elderly. That will earn you marks for corporate social responsibility. The higher you score, the better your chances of getting a plot.

Step 2: Your bid is successful and after you get a letter from a government entity bearing such good news, fill out all the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of the plot to your company. The title deed will have a condition that details the “CSR” project.

Step 3: Save for the CSR portion, develop the plot in accordance with what the management plan details.

Step 4: After a suitable period of time, invoke the change-of-use provision in the law. In your bid, you may have stated that you want to build an orphanage or an old-age home or a rehabilitation centre on the premises but now is a good time to drop the fake Good Samaritan act. You are a hard-nosed businessperson and can’t waste land that will earn you profit on something that will drain your resources. Invoke said provision by applying for permission to change use of the CSR portion and placing a microscopic advert in newspapers. The ad will state that any party that wants to object to the planned change of use should do so within a given period. (In an ideal world village development committees should monitor the press for such adverts and object but that doesn’t happen.)

Step 5: When the application is approved, the CSR portion is now part of your business and nobody can hold you to the hollow promise you made. You are now free to put that portion to good commercial use.

Yes, that is how land is being legally tricked from the state across Botswana. That is the bad news. The worse news is that those who authorise this action are aware of what is happening and worst, that there are no plans to tighten up the law to stop this trickery. 

A former landboard chairperson reveals another method which is mostly used by deep-pocketed individuals to hoard land through companies that they own. An individual is entitled to only one plot in the entire country and if s/he wants more land, then they have to buy it. Companies are a different matter altogether because each is treated as a separate legal entity.

“There is no limit to the number of companies that one can own and remember that nowadays, registering a company takes only 24 hours,” says the former landboard chairperson. “What that means is that one can register as many company as he wants and get land for each one of those companies. An individual can’t do that in his personal capacity but in his capacity but that same individual can own as many commercial and industrial plots as his finances allow. There is a requirement that the plots that one already owns should have been developed because he can be allocated another but there are no formal processes to confirm that such plots have indeed been developed.”

The source laments that as a result of this loophole in the law, wealthy people are hoarding a lot of land through companies that they own.

Before being allocated, commercial and industrial plots are advertised and companies as well as individuals are invited to tender. The tender evaluation is done in three stages and on the whole, the process is rigged in favour of the rich.

The first stage involves assessment of bids for compliance relating to the submission of basic documents like copies of national ID card, sworn affidavits, application forms and the project proposal. The latter includes feasibility and viability of the project, management plan and capital investment. If you are rich enough, you shouldn’t have a problem meeting the aforementioned requirements.

The second stage involves allocating marks to the bidders through a points-based system that is based on a number of factors. As regards tricking land from the state through would-be CSR projects that never come into being, two items (“justification of the plot size applied for” and “socio-economic benefits”) are of particular interest. That is where some bidders include CSR projects they have no intention of getting off the ground. Each point that a bidder gets is hugely important because it can mean the difference between winning and losing a bid.

The third stage is the oral interview – which contributes a quarter of the total score.

Wholesome bids and ones likeliest to be successful are typically put together by professionals whose services cost an arm and a leg. Under the “Environmental Impact and Mitigation” sub-section for example, bidders are asked to detail how they would deal with waste management, air pollution as well pollutants and emissions. A rich bidder who is really determined to win a bid can very easily engage environmental scientists to handle that part of the proposal. Likewise, he can engage a marketing professional to develop a sound marketing strategy.

Sounds bids enhance one’s chances of scoring high marks and for the rich, that is a cinch – there is even a part (“Financial Capacity”) that awards marks for how rich a bidder is. A landboard says that as a result of this and other factors, rich individuals are winning bids across the country at the expense of the shallow-pocketed.

In fairness to the Ministry though, some shallow-pocketed people make successful bids for both commercial and industrial plots. In one too many cases however, such success is a case of those biting more than they can chew. Afterwards however, they end up not developing the plots within the legally stipulated time period.

The outcome is three-fold. The first outcome is in the form of land that could have been allocated for residential use laying fallow for years on end while applications for residential plots pile up at the local landboard office. The second is a slew of change-of-use applications which louses physical planning. The third is selling to the deep-pocketed.

While they all fall under the same central authority, landboards are allowed certain latitude in terms of developing rules specific to their jurisdiction. That condition super-concentrates a lot of power in landboard secretaries and some of the rules that they craft don’t benefit local communities.

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