Africa News Bulletin

Malawi: Museum land dubious sale

Details have emerged how the Ministry of Lands facilitated the sale of land belonging to Department of Museums in Blantyre to Platinum Investment Limited without consulting the department.

The department has since reclaimed ownership after a court battle.

We can report that it began with Minister of Lands and Housing during that time, Henry Phoya, writing the then Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture Rachel Zulu informing her that his ministry was repossessing the land for what he called residential purposes.

Phoya communicated to Zulu through a letter with reference number LH/2/A/2 dated March 6, 2013 which had the heading: “Repossession of museum offices currently being used by the District Education Manager, Blantyre Urban.”

Phoya wrote:

“I wish to advise you that my Ministry intends to subdivide the smaller plot comprising about 0.400 of a hectare into two residential plots. I have thought it proper to notify you because the creation of the two plots will affect one of the access roads to the offices standing on the next plot.

“However, the building will easily be accessed through the other existing road. Honourable Minister, I should be very grateful for your comments on my Ministry’s intention to subdivide the Plot No. BE 60 (Old Plot Number 497) situated at Mandala in the city of Blantyre.”

In the letter, Phoya gives a background to the land.

He says the land was transferred to the Museums Trustees of Nyasaland by the African Lakes Corporation Limited in 1961 under Deed Number 27190 which was transferred to the Malawi Government in 1981 through an Act of Parliament known as the Museums (Dissolutions) Act, 1981.

He told Zulu that the effect of the Museums (Dissolutions) Act, 1981 is that the land which was freehold when the Museums Trustees of Nyasaland purchased it automatically changed its status from freehold to public.

“In fact, the Museums of Malawi is aware of this position as evidenced by the letter of 31st October, 1990 which the Principal Curator wrote to the Principal Adjudication Officer in the Ministry of Lands,” reads Phoya’s letter.

But the Department of Museum has fought against sale.

According to a court ruling made on December 23, 2021 by Justice Michael Tembo, Platinum Investment Limited dragged the Department of Museums to court for wrongfully and persistently preventing them from carrying out development plans on the land which were approved in September 2014.

It further accused the department of wrongfully and persistently claiming ownership of the land; wrongfully and persistently requesting Platinum Investment Limited to remove construction materials and threatening criminal charges against them in the event of failure to remove materials from the land.

Platinum Investment Limited demanded K394 million special loss and damage and K11 million in legal fees.

But the court ruled that Platinum Investment Limited failed to prove its claims to the requisite standard.

Further, the court faulted the Ministry of Lands for taking the museum land without consulting the owner.

“One would ordinarily have expected the Ministry of Lands to have consulted or at least provided information to the Department of Museums in the process of taking away of the land herein nor as the issue was being considered by the relevant Ministry of Lands.

“In a typical dereliction of the duty of good public administration, the Ministry of Lands unilaterally dealt with the land for the benefit of the claimant and to the detriment of the Department of Museums,” reads the court ruling.

Tembo said circumstances in which the land was sold appeared to be opaque as the Department of Museums, the owners of the land, who were not informed of the sale.

“This appears very bizarre, to say the least,” said Tembo.

A letter dated December 11, 2014 from Platinum Investment Limited and signed by a Mr Bwanali confirmed that the land had been bought by the company.

“We would like to advise you that the bricks and sand in question are on plot No. BE 60, being title No. Blantyre East 65/1 purchased by ourselves and held under a leasehold,” reads the letter adding, “We, therefore, in the strongest terms urge you to have due regard to the deed plans for the property and to note and respect the boundaries for your land to avoid unnecessary conflicts in future.”

But in his reaction, acting Director of Museums Lovemore Mazibuko in his letter dated December 22, 2014, clarified that Plot BE 60, and Plot 497 were one plot.

Mazibuko said the insistence by Platinum Investment Limited that it owned the land raised suspicion that the company may have connived with some officers in the Ministry of Lands to get the land. “But your insistence and continued claims that the land belongs to you makes us become suspicious of the whole saga. Instead, of exonerating you from this sage, we now have legitimate fear to start treating you as an accomplice who may have connived with certain elements within the Department of Lands to illegally acquire property belonging to another institution,” reads Mazibuko’s letter.

Mazibuko told Platinum Investment Limited that even though they may have got the land through legal ways, the Museums Department would not allow it to grab its land.

Reads his letter, “Whether the documents you got from the Department of Lands bear necessary stamps is neither here nor there. The fact is that the purported sale is illegal and a serious abuse of office.

“We would like to reiterate that we will not sit back and smile while funny transactions are being made involving museum property. As a country we have had enough of these illegal transactions, the consequences of which are hurting everybody including innocent people.”

Asked if she was in support of the sale of the museum land when she was minister, Zulu told Malawi News on Friday: “No. I need to cross check. Not sure what my response was exactly.

I believe it was still under discussion with the director of culture.”

We tried several times to get Phoya for a comment but his number persistently was not available.

READ original article on The Times

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