Update 3: There have been quite a few developments since then. An amended version of the bill passed the National Assembly, then was rejected on principle by the National Council. We haven’t heard an official update about it since. In Insight, I wrote about the negative impact the original bill would have had here, and wrote about how flawed the process of drafting the bill was here.

Update 2: In a post to the AR facebook page, the movement reports back on a meeting with government on earlier today. Included in it is the revelation(claim?) that the Technical Implementation Committee

The restructuring also includes the committee assuming an additional function to deal with amendments of laws and issues related to housing finance. This includes practical implementations of matters like Rent Control Boards and prescribing of Estate Agents tariffs. All these are expected to happen before 31 October 2015.

 

Two things about that. First, it’ll be interesting to see the quality of legislation coming out of this. The Local Authorities Amendment Bill seems rushed and disjointed, and I don’t know if this committee will do better than the ministry. In fact, I’ll have to ponder my opinion on this committee drawing up national policy on land. I’m not sure who’s on it, but it didn’t sound like it would go through regular channels. Verdict’s out. Secondly, on the idea that we will have Rent Control Boards etc mandated by law before 31 October — well, I’m willing to bet a lot of money on that not happening. The NA is wrapping up its business already; the speaker had requested members to submit new bills no later than October 15 because they still have to go to the National Council. So yeah, not going to happen.

Update 1: It appears we weren’t the only ones with these concerns. Today, The Namibian reported that the deputy Minister of Agriculture drew parallels between this law and apartheid legislation.

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A couple of weeks ago Parliament started debating amendments to the Local Authorities Act. Really dry stuff, for the most part, but the draft contained some dynamite provisions regarding new property regulations, probably spurred on by recent political pressure on the administration to do something about the urban land crisis.

Under the law, what will basically happen is this:

  1. urban land will be divided into Namibian zones and open zones. In open zones, foreigners can buy dwellings, but not commercial properties.
  2. Namibian zones are subdivided by income level, and you won’t be allowed to buy land in an area that is classified as being of a lower income as yourself.

The IPPR put out a paper about the laws, with several concerns.

First, kicking out foreigners is great politics, always has been — we identify a scapegoat to blame for causing this crisis (in this case, rich foreigners pricing us out of the housing market) and solve the problem decisively. The first problem is that this is not evidence-based: foreign home-owners are probably a small part of the market, so they didn’t cause the house price crisis, and anyways the law only allows them to buy houses, which definitely won’t help prices for Namibians. Secondly, it could have negative consequences in that a lot of the money Namibia’s economy gets for its economic growth comes from abroad, and this move might discourage foreign investment.

I’m most concerned about the rule dividing Namibians by income. Windhoek is already starkly segregated by economic class, a very visible manifestation of our apartheid past. While there has been some reconfiguration of wealth patterns, the reality is that this wealth segregation is also a de facto segregation by race. Now, the idea behind this provision is that developers won’t go into poor areas and price out lower-income folks. That’s an admirable goal, but the policy won’t help. All it will do is legally mandate the segregation we already have. What we need is a comprehensive affordable housing project to integrate the exclusive Windhoek suburbs. Because poor Namibians certainly can’t afford to buy properties in rich areas anyway, as it stands. So what would happen with this rules is that the rich stay among themselves, and the poor stay what have now become legally designated ghettos. This means those areas would unlikely see an increase in property values, so that home-owners there don’t see an increase in their wealth while the still-exclusive rich areas see property prices (i.e. the wealth of already rich people) go up. Hello inequality.

This might just be unconstitutional on a variety of fronts — check out the full paper here.