Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) executive director Ann Bernstein said on Wednesday that the proposed Land Expropriation Bill is not a good one, adding that this is the worst possible time for South Africa to revisit its expropriation regime.
The Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure has invited stakeholders and interested persons to submit written submissions on the Bill, which aims to repeal the existing Expropriation Act 63 of 1975, provide a common framework in line with the Constitution to guide the processes and procedures for expropriation of property by organs of State and provide for instances where expropriation with nil compensation may be just and equitable.
Bernstein argued that the Bill did nothing to address the underlying problems of capacity, competence and integrity which bedevil government’s land reform strategy.
“My greater concern is that there are probably a lot of politicians and officials who don’t understand the new rules or who may try and abuse them. They could do a lot of damage to SA’s reputation for protecting property rights even if the courts do their job to limit and punish abuses,” she said.
Therefore, the CDE has proposed amendments such as defining the term “land reform” and limiting it to restitution and land distribution programmes, as in the Constitution
The CDE also wants the Bill to deal with official abuse to ensure that officials are criminally and civilly liable for any expropriation not provided for by law. Such officials should be made criminally and civilly liable in their personal capacities for expropriations that are undertaken for purposes other than those provided for in the law.
The CDE proposes that the law provides that the lack of funds on a government agency’s budget cannot be considered by a court when determining the level of compensation that is just and equitable.
“In evaluating the Bill, it is vital to compare it to existing provisions in the 1975 Expropriation Act. The changes proposed are real, but they are not as extreme and dramatic as some commentators have suggested. But it is not a good Bill. Expropriation is a necessary evil in all societies. But the power to expropriate is intrusive and dangerous, so it must be used rarely, only in the public interest, and on the basis of a clear set of justiciable rules that are fair to all concerned,” said Bernstein.