Monday, October 26, 2020

Surveyors dig up dirt in messy land project

Government faces losses running into millions of pula in cost overruns and legal bills as the project aimed at improving Botswana’s land governance bombs.

Leaked documents reveal how the Ministry of Lands and Housing botched the Land Administration Procedures Capacity and Systems (LAPCAS) project resulting in poor implementation and what promises to be a costly legal battle.

This emerged in a statutory notice in which Botswana Surveying and Mapping Association through their lawyers Ndadi Lawfirm notified the government of its intention to sue for illegal implementation LAPCAS.

Sunday Standard can reveal that the Attorney General conceded that the government violated the Land Survey Act by closing private land surveyors out of the project and has requested that the matter be settled out of court.

It also emerged in the documents that the government does not have the capacity to undertake the LAPCAS and this has resulted in delays and cancellations of some components of the project.

Spelling out the blunders that are likely to see government losing millions, the lawyers state that approved surveys of some plots in Kalfointein and Molepolole were not supposed to have been approved as they are encroaching.

“It is to be further observed that the adopted survey in respect to the Molepolole Surveys; i.e. Lot 733 Molepolole runs counter the tribal land Act which designated the land as Bakwena Tribal Territory. It now appears in the survey as Kweneng Administrative Area. In the absence of a change of law, in particular the Tribal Land Act and Tribal Territory Act, this classification cannot stand,” Ndadi Law firm lawyers stated.

The lawyers also stated that “the attendant consequences of aforesaid flawed process include but not limited to variations of existing diagrams of titles already registered with the Deeds Office.”  

The registered title bonds and deeds with the Deeds Registry is most likely incorrect as the surveys submitted to support the LAPCAS Project that has affected properties descriptions without notice to all relevant stakeholders.

“We note that the Director of Surveys and Mapping is also in charge of the LAPCAS Project, this goes against all levels of corporate governance as no one can be a referee and a player simultaneously,” the lawyers stated.

They added that “in terms of the statutory functions of the Director, he is mandated to supervise and control all surveys in Botswana and is also the custodian of the Land Survey Act.”

The document points to a conflict of interest in the Director of Surveys and Mapping acting as implementer, supervisor and a final decision maker on the approval of the surveys supporting the same project which he is in charge of. Private land surveyors argue that this dual role diminishes the important oversight role expected of the person of the Director of Surveys and Mapping by law.

“In the premises, we are instructed to demand as we hereby do, that you set aside and nullify all approved surveys supporting the LAPCAS project and further suspend the approval of any surveys,” the lawyers said.

In response, Yarona Sharp of the Attorney General Chambers said that Botswana Surveying and Mapping Association held meeting with the Director of Surveys and Mapping.”

She said Molepolole has indeed been entitled ‘Kweneng Administrative Area’ that designate it wrongly done and consequently contrary to the Tribal territories Act.

Sharp further “conceded that the typographical error is due to human mistake which sometimes happens in Land Surveying and in life in generality.”

She said the issue of how modifying plot numbers of existing property affects title deeds have been addressed of which necessary rectifications will be met at government expense.

On the Director of Surveys and Mapping being a referee and player at the same time, Sharp said currently the department is administratively and technically led by the Acting Director while the incumbent has been seconded by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands and Housing to be the LAPCAS Project Manager.

“In any event, assuming without conceding that the Director is indeed both a player and a referee instant, there is nothing that precludes him from so doing due to the mere fact that this scenario whereby the Director is surveying, examining and approving plots is his primary mandate at the Department of Surveys and Mapping, which has been ongoing since time immemorial…”

LAPCAS was conceived in 2009 in partnership with the Swedish Government to improve land administration in Botswana.

LAPCAS was to ensure that all plots in Botswana are surveyed, legally owned as verified by the Land Authority resolution, captured both manually and electronically; in short, where it is clear where which plot is and as to who it belongs to. There was also an intention to give each plot a unique identity.

The project was expected to be the springboard for socio-economic development of the country through electronic based service delivery.

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