Rwanda’s new land policy adheres to set continental guidelines-Land Centre Chief

The first ever National Land Dialogue kicked off yesterday. The dialogue, that is organised Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD), a local NGO, and the office of the Ombudsman, has brought together key stake holders in the land reform process. These include, donors, high government institutions and the Civil Society. One of the key participants in the Dialogue is the National Land Center. The New Times’ Fred Oluoch Ojiwah talked to  Dr. Emmanuel Nkurunziza the Director of the National Land Center about some of the pertinent issues surrounding the land reform process currently going on. Excerpts.
Dr.Emmanuel Nkurunziza the Director General of The National Land Centre. (Photo by F.H. Goodman)
Dr.Emmanuel Nkurunziza the Director General of The National Land Centre. (Photo by F.H. Goodman)

The first ever National Land Dialogue kicked off yesterday. The dialogue, that is organised Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD), a local NGO, and the office of the Ombudsman, has brought together key stake holders in the land reform process. These include, donors, high government institutions and the Civil Society. One of the key participants in the Dialogue is the National Land Center. The New Times’ Fred Oluoch Ojiwah talked to  Dr. Emmanuel Nkurunziza the Director of the National Land Center about some of the pertinent issues surrounding the land reform process currently going on. Excerpts.

Give us a background about the institution you head.

My office happens to be the same office of the Registrar of Land Titles. Principally this institution was set up three years ago. Its main responsibility is actually to implement the new land policy and laws that have been put together .So I must say that we are the principle agency for Government to implement its new land tenure programme.

The National Land Centre is thus involved in various aspects of land management. This ranges from land use planning, administration, registration, surveying and related components.

That is a huge task placed on your office considering that this is being done for the very first time in Rwanda.  

I agree with your observation. However this being a new institution, we are still within the set up stages of the institution. But I must also say that while setting up or by building the necessary components and units, we are at the same time rolling out the priority programmes. For such priorities we have established the necessary inputs to get them going.

In this principally I will mention the land registration programme that is being undertaken as we speak. The other is the preparation of the National Land Use Master Plan which is almost being concluded. These are two critical tools needed in managing land in the country.

The master plan will help us in the optimal utilization of land. By this I mean assisting us in knowing what use is supposed to be allotted in a particular area. Land registration is supposed to assist us in guaranteeing security of tenure for land holders through promoting land as an economic resource.

While you are going about doing all that putting in place structures and programmes, the citizen in the country side has issues that need urgent redress. So there seems to be issues on the ground while your office is going about doing all these things you are saying.

What I can emphasize is that while we are setting up, we are actually on the ground. I think I have given you an explanation of how we are doing this. For instance land registration is on going within all 30 districts of the country. Just over the last one year we have managed to register over one million parcels of land.

So I must emphasize that building up of this institution or setting up processes does not in any way hinder us from undertaking our mandate. This is being done concurrently.

Can you comment on some of those complaints that surface on the ground?

These complaints are not really principally land issues. They manifest themselves through land but they are basically societal issues. If you critically look at them they are largely intra-familial issues that emanate from things like inheritance, polygamy or land sharing.

But let me interject by saying that these issues largely impact on land.

Absolutely. However my take is that these challenges are not to be sorted out only by the National Land Centre. It needs a joint effort to be managed even by local government arms at the lowest levels possible.

If somebody is conflicting with his brother because of a simple land boundary, that is not an issue to wait for the National Land Centre to  sort out. It is an issue that can be amicably resolved at that level. We are of course providing tools that are making such issues to become less problematic through instruments like land registration.

This helps with addressing boundary issues. Even at the moment a lot more can be done at different levels without necessarily feeling that this office is the only one that can assist with sorting out some of these challenges.

Expropriation seems not to be done right going by the complaints that has been reaching media outlets. In your own view what is not being done right or how can things be done in a better way.

As I had said this is one issue that we have always been candid about. This is in terms of what has been implemented in the right way and what has not been implemented correctly.

There is a law that governs expropriation which was enacted in 2007.This law is very clear on the procedures that are supposed to be used in expropriating land in the public interest. As you have mentioned, lots of provisions of this law have not been adhered to by many institutions.

This is partly due to ignorance of the law. Another reason can be attributed to bad practises by those responsible. A reason related to the first weakness is that may be people were still getting used to the provisions of this new law. However this should not be taken as an excuse.

Maybe you should give an overview of how it should be done correctly.

Expropriation is normally done by local government arms. It is the district that undertakes expropriation for an interest that has been judged to be in the public interest. But even this judgement is supposed to be done by district land commission. What has happened is that these processes have not been strictly adhered to. Some time there has not been due diligence on who is asking for expropriation. That is why we have had cases where people have been promised to be paid while the money has not been forthcoming.

Meaning that in one way or another your office still has a role to play in say sensitizing people?

What we have done as an institution that manages the sector having noted that the law is not been adhered to accurately, we have prepared expropriation guide lines.

The purpose of these guide lines is meant to try and clarify what people would take as ambiguous or unclear items within this law. The purpose of these guidelines is that there should be no more excuses as to whether there is clarity on this item.

Let us dwell on the role of the local leaders on expropriation guidelines. How are the roles spelt out as this seems to be the area where the main challenge lies? By this I mean getting the local leaders to act accordingly.

The law itself without our guidelines is clear enough. This is due to the fact that the law stipulates that local government has been tasked with managing expropriation. Meaning that if there is any other activity being championed by any other agency all these have to go through local government.

It is the district that has to present the proposal for expropriation to the district land commission. The commission assesses the request and makes a judgement as to whether the activity proposed is in the public interest.

Once that has been done then this is forwarded to the District Council .From the District Council public meeting have to be called with the people concerned. The purpose is to explain what is on the way and how they are going to be compensated.

After that evaluation of their properties follows and payment. The law is clear that once evaluation has been done and no payment is made within 120 days, the request becomes invalid. If the proposal is still deemed as necessary by the project developer he or she has to start afresh. What I have to say is that the law has put in place safeguards to protect the people. So the process is very clear.

Could you tell the readers about this National Land Dialogue?

This is an initiative of RISD, a local  NGO in close concert with the office of the Ombudsman. RISD brought the idea to us and we are supportive of it. This is due to the fact that we want to chart out ways of addressing outstanding land issues. One of the activities is public debate on radio which I participated in.

What I must say is that personally there were not really any major issues that came up for discussions at the radio talk show.It seems that only simple issues came up for discussion. I must say that the bigger problems are being taken care of.

However local issues have to be tackled at local levels. So I believe dialogue will be very important in bringing different stakeholders together for the purposes of thrashing out outstanding issues.

As the registrar what are you taking to the table?

We are showcasing what has been done so far in terms of the institutional framework. I am very proud of what has been achieved in the sector over the past 10 years. For instance I must say we have one of the best land policies in Africa. This is going by the African Union policy guideline and framework that was agreed on land policy.

Rwanda’s land policy is one of the most coherent in the continent. We have a very good land law. We have gone ahead and developed secondary legislation that helps implement that law. We have established institutions and oversights to implement this law including this office.

We have district land offices in all the 30 districts. We have commissions from the local to the national level. From a Government side all that is needed has been put in place to resolve these issues. We have gone ahead to provide higher level tools like land registration.

That brings the next issue of capacity and professionalism. How do you go about building capacity in a situation whereby local expertise is in short supply?

We have outsourced certain functions to private operatives. However I must point out that we are keen on having our own pool of talent. To that effect one of the things we are doing is the development of an academic programme already at Umutara University for training land surveyors. This is going to be the first ever.

But there is another one which we are working in collaboration with our funders. We are set to establish one of the best surveying departments in the country to be hosted at INES. This is on-going and we hope that it will be operational before end of the year. I have personally participated in the developing its curriculum. Equipment is being procured.

What other unique solutions are you proposing on that element of delivery of services within your office?

I think we are going to do something unique that maybe other countries have not embarked on. We want to make surveying a lot easier without the need of hiring expensive high level surveyors. It is one based the Global Positioning System(GPS) where even a lay man will do it. This is in our action plan for this financial year. It will be operational next year. We have developed all the transformations. Once done we will not need the expensive surveyors.

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