Parliament was on Friday embroiled in an intense debate over the controversial land allocation for the youth, with the Minister of Lands and Housing prompted to parry suggestions that his ministry was contributory to the sufferings people are undergoing in that vulnerable sector.
Contributing to a motion moved by Kweneng South East MP Mmoloki Raletobana, which seeks government to revise the eligibility for land allocation from 21 to 18 years, Lands minister Nonofo Molefhi argued that contrary to sentiments commonly expressed, his ministry was wholeheartedly committed to improving and empowering the group, citing the special dispensation extended to those under the age of twenty-one.
“Our tribal land Act does not prohibit the allocation of land to those under the age of twenty-one as suggested. We offer special waivers to them, with their guardians acting as sureties, as stipulated in Botswana laws which place the responsibility of any eligible transactions upon individuals of the age of twenty-one and above. Thus a notion we are discriminate and not committed to providing the youth with land automatically falls off,” argued Molefhi.
“The tribal land Act governing our daily land execution does not provide any age limits thus every individual is permitted to acquire land. However, a guardian is needed in the land transaction for those under the age of twenty-one because of the major implications which could arise following the collapse of the business venture,” he insisted.
He continued: “The suggestion that we should revise the eligibility for the land allocation for the youth takes me by surprise because the tribal land Act does not provide any age to acquire land. Our main concern is whether the applicant would be able to develop the land as requested.”
Ever since government introduced schemes geared to promote youth empowerment, such as the Young Farmers grant, angry voices have been raised with the youths under the age of twenty-one lashing out at the country’s laws, which prohibit them to acquire land.
Ironically, while the new government schemes would even cater for the eighteen year olds to obtain financial assistance to improve their business ventures, the current application of the law provides that “only those aged twenty-one and above” are eligible to make land transactions.
Further said the minister: “The problem does not lie with our tribal land Act but rather the current general application of the law, which stipulates that eligible transactions should be carried out by those aged twenty-one and above. It thus follows that we would require the applicants concerned to come with their mothers or any other guardians as sureties to fulfill the requirement as stipulated by the general law.”
Although Molefhi anticipates the move could not provide all the answers to the current impediments, he believes the mover of the motion should challenge the general application of law as currently practiced instead of his institution which adheres to the laws as directed.
While the parliamentarians acknowledged the essence of the motion in view of the glaring anomalies embedded in Botswana laws, some members of parliament called for the re-phrasing of the motion as the minister responsible disputed the “eligibility for land allocation from 21 to 18 years”, adding his department had never stipulated age requirement in their Act.
Earlier, presenting his motion, Raletobana punched holes in the current arrangement arguing that contrary to the notion that the under 21 are considered not responsible enough to acquire land alone, they are, however, expected to participate in major tasks, including voting to elect the government of the day while others are employed in the notorious Directorate of Intelligence Services.
“They perform far much sensitive and difficult tasks but cannot execute land transactions alone,” he said sarcastically.
For his part, Lobatse MP Nehemiah Modubule would not support the motion because even if passed the status quo would not change.
“The problem is not the change of years from 21 to 18 as the motion suggests but rather the laws governing this country. If we cannot amend these overdue laws, the status quo will still persist,” said Modubule. “Imagine an 18-year-old legislator elected to parliament and conferred with all the responsibilities only to be ridiculed by the laws of this country, which do not allow him to own land.”