November 28, 2003

Nationality basis for land tax a step closer

On Wednesday, Nov 26, Government passed an amendment to the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act 6 of 1995 which will allow the tax rate to be based on nationality. An amendment passed two years ago which paved the way for these taxes, based tax rates exclusively on the value and size of properties. Last year, Parliament agreed that Namibians should be charged a rate of 0,75 per cent, and foreign and absentee landlords 1,75 per cent of the value of each hectare of undeveloped land. Until now, those rates could not be implemented because legislation did not provide for nationality to be taken into account when determining the amount payable.

Bending the House rules on Wednesday to round off the year's business, Lands Minister Hifikepunye Pohamba responded to some queries raised by MPs during the second reading debate before forging straight ahead to committee stage to pass the Bill (according to Standing Rules and Orders, a Bill cannot pass through two stages on the same sitting day). Pohamba said that, as things stood, taxes applied to all commercial farmland, but that the new legislation allows for the Minister to grant exemptions if landholders apply. "This is not a blanket exemption and is also not automatically a total exemption. Each case will be considered on its own merits," he said. He added that resettlement beneficiaries who rented land from the State would be tax-exempt.

With Kosie Pretorius, of the Monitor Action Group, standing firm in the final stage of the legislative process, he repeated his earlier objection to the Bill's failure to define 'farm'. Pohamba replied that, while his Ministry was working on a scientific means of determining a farming unit, a property would be deemed as a farm for now if it was registered as one with the Deeds Office. "I have no doubt in my mind that the move of Honourable Pretorius is intended to derail the process and to ensure that the land tax is not implemented. The people who are concerned with the definition of a farm are those who have benefited from the the apartheid governments and are still comfortable today," the Minister charged. Pretorius retorted: "I am disappointed that in the last 13 years Government is not prepared to accept any good advice, well meant and at face value. They always have to come up with political motives".

The Minister maintained that land tax receipts would allow the country to become economically sustainable by 2030, giving Government more land for resettlement. A N$20 000 fine, a five-year jail term or both are the specified penalties for disobeying the new law. This Bill will now go to the National Council for scrutiny. (The Namibian)

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