May 14, 2004

NAMIBIA: Land reform moves ahead while Budget for 2004/05 is adopted

The Namibian government has told a first group of farmers they must sell their property under land reforms that some fear could wreak as much havoc with agriculture as a similar programme did in Zimbabwe. Land Minister Hifikepunye Pohamba has sent letters to about ten farm owners. In the letters, Pohamba told them they were "cordially invited to make an offer to sell their property to the state and to enter into further negotiations in that regard". The farmers were given 14 days to respond.

These are the first notices to be issued under the land reform programme launched in 1995 to redress the ownership imbalance stemming from the mostly white farmers who own much of Namibia's arable land. "We have started implementing the law," the land minister was quoted as saying. "We have issued many notices. I cannot remember how many, but I can tell you they are many," he said.

Opposition parties reacted with concern, with Ignatius Shixwameni of the Congress of Democrats saying: "There is simply no reason to ape the disastrous example of Zimbabwe by creating uncertainty in the economy." Siggi Eimbeck of the Namibia Farmers' Support Initiative said the expropriation is "irresponsible and causing international damage to Namibia's reputation". "It will cause economic and political destabilisation. There about 35 000 farm workers in the country with about 135 000 dependants. If the farms get expropriated, where do the workers and their families go?" Eimbeck asked.

In the meantime, the national Budget for the 2004-05 financial year, totalling N$12,69 billion, was passed in the National Assembly after more than a month of deliberations. It is set to top the agenda of the National Council today. Delivering her final remarks as the Appropriation Bill reached the end of the Committee Stage, Finance Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila promised that when more resources were available, these would go towards development projects. She said curtailing the budgets of State departments this year was necessary in the interest of sound fiscal discipline. Although this year's expenditure is about 3,6 per cent higher than during 2003-04, most ministers bemoaned their "small" budgets, saying they would not be able to fulfil all their intentions. The Basic Education Ministry receives the lion's share of the national cake at more than N$2,3 billion, followed by the Health Ministry which stands to receive N$1,7 billion. Nine per cent of this financial year's Budget will be spent on paying interest on the country's debt. Projected income for 2004-05 is N$12,1 billion - an 11,7 per cent increase on the revenue for the past financial year. The National Assembly went into recess until June 8. (The Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg / The Namibian, Windhoek)

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