EU Worried By Fresh Wave Of Land Seizures

EUROPE’S top diplomat in Zimbabwe has expressed concern over a new wave of land expropriations in the country, saying this has slowed down the country’s reform and re-engagement programme.

Phillipe Van Damme, head of the European Union (EU) delegation to Zimbabwe, said the new farm seizures undermined the country’s commitment to the international community that it would stop fresh land seizures and start rebuilding the ruined agricultural sector.

“On land, it’s clear that we’re concerned,” Van Damme said in an interview with the Financial Gazette at his Harare office. 

“It’s a total anomaly that you invade productive farms when you have others that are idle, oversized and others hold multiple farms.”

He said Zimbabwe had pledged to stop new farms seizures in its re-engagement strategy presented to international creditors in Lima, Peru, in October 2015.

Zimbabwe indicated to the creditors that it would clear outstanding debt arrears amounting to US$1,8 million to three international financial institutions namely the African Development Bank (AfDB), World Bank group (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“In terms of this plan, new land invasions would be stopped,” said Van Damme, who indicated that current land seizures had “not followed the Constitution”, which stipulates that new land acquisitions would be made “for public purposes”.

“We’re concerned by unconstitutionalism and lack of respect for due process or sometimes even worse, contempt of court,” he said, talking about the expropriations.

He said all EU countries were agreed that the country’s land reform programme could not be reversed, but indicated that they had accepted Zimbabwe’s commitment to “bring to an end the land reform process”.

He said the pledge made by Zimbabwe in Lima had been repeated by Chinamasa at a meeting in March involving all stakeholders in the land reform process.

Apparently, government had publicly announced that the land reform programme should be finalised and that the new challenge was the restoration and preservation of productivity on acquired farms “in order to create real wealth and jobs”.

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, John Mangudya, who has been working with Chinamasa in the country’s re-engagement efforts, noted in January that bringing finality to the land reform programme would go a long way in addressing uncertainties that continue to adversely affect the agricultural sector from achieving its potential in transforming the economy. 

He said some of the measures that could be taken to reduce uncertainty and increase investment and productivity in agriculture include:   

•Expediting the valuation process of the remaining farms and coming up with a financing model for compensating the previous farmers for farm improvements.

•Creating security of tenure so that the land can be used as collateral security in accessing financing from financial institutions. 

Hence the crafting of a land policy which enables the creation of a land market is key to unlocking financing through formal channels. The urgent resolution on the bankability of 99-year leases would enable active participation of the financial institutions in agricultural development;

•Complete mapping of the newly created farming units in order to control disputes over boundaries which distract farmers from productive use of their time. The Ministry of Lands has already began using a new system which relies on the use of modern GPS to map A1 and A2 plots layouts. 

This is highly commendable as it enhances the security of tenure of both the A1 and A2 farmers; and

•Cooling off the continuing disruptions and threats to farmers, particularly in the dairy, cattle breeding, horticulture and tobacco sub-sectors.

Van Damme said the EU has been supporting that quest to bring finality to the contentious land reform programme, with financial support so far availed to government to consolidate land reform in a number of key areas.

These include finalising, adopting and implementing land tenure security policies and regulations; reviewing and streamlining land administration and regulations; ending the backlog on land valuation and compensation; reviewing and strengthening dispute resolution systems, structures and procedures; and strengthening the land ministry’s service delivery capacity.

He said valuation of acquired properties including farm inventories for compensation purposes was currently underway. 

He hoped there would soon be stakeholder consultations on compensation and valuation, dispute resolution mechanisms and land tenure.

“At this stage, we have mixed results. What is missing at this stage is stakeholder consultation. We need to come up with a commonly agreed methodology for valuation,” he said.

He said government had started talking to farmers protected by bilateral investment protection and promotion agreements (BIPPA) to settle litigation. He said under the current farm occupations, BIPPA protected farms had not been threatened.

Van Damme said it was “clear the momentum we had in Lima has evolved not necessarily in the way we had anticipated”.

“We’ve not seen much progress. We can’t say that we’ve made progress. The reform process is much slower, re-engagement is much slower,” he said.

He said the Lima plan had promised that Zimbabwe would unveil a time-bound reform agenda for effective implementation of reforms, but that has not yet happened.

Asked if the recent repayment of outstanding arrears to the IMF was not a positive step, he said: “It’s a sign of goodwill, but not sufficient.”

He hoped this would be followed by repayment of outstanding debts to the WB and the AfDB.

The IMF reported last month that Zimbabwe settled its overdue financial obligations to the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust (PRGT) of the IMF on October 20, 2016. It said Zimbabwe had been in continuous arrears since 2001.

To settle these obligations, which amounted to Special Drawing Rights (SDR) 78,3 million or US$107,9 million at the ruling exchange rate, Zimbabwe drew down its SDR holdings kept at the IMF.

“Zimbabwe is now current on all its financial obligations to the IMF,” said the Bretton Woods institution in its statement.

However, it has been explained by the IMF that the settling of overdue obligations does not automatically provide Zimbabwe with access to IMF financing.

Access to IMF resources would first require a decision by the IMF’s executive board to lift the remaining measures imposed on Zimbabwe because of the arrears.

These measures include the declaration of non-cooperation with the IMF made in 2002; the suspension of IMF technical assistance in some areas, which has been progressively lifted since the formation of an inclusive government in 2009; and the removal of Zimbabwe from the list of PRGT-non-eligible countries.

The date for such a board meeting has not yet been set, the IMF has said.

Van Damme said resolution of the land reform programme has the potential to turn around the country’s economic fortunes, pointing out that the sector was still the bedrock of the economy.

He said all EU countries had accepted Zimbabwe’s Lima plan.

“We’ve a common view; we all welcomed Lima,” he said.

Financial Gazette