Land budget in trouble

The land claims budget will be nearly exhausted in the first quarter of this financial year, but the treasury is unlikely to allocate more funds this year.

Acting land claims commissioner Blessing Mphela revealed last week that finalising expensive and complicated claims will shortly exhaust 90% of the commission’s R1,4-billion budget. Mphela has repeatedly bemoaned high land prices, saying the commission spent more rands for less land.

“The office experienced a backlog challenge in settling some of the 2008/2009 claims,” said commission spokesperson Pulane Molefe. “There were outstanding payments from the previous fiscal year which needed to be paid.” The KwaDube Community claim in KwaZulu-Natal alone would cost R600-million, she said.

The commission needs at least another R4-billion to close the book on restitutions, she said.
Insiders believe that restitutions could realistically be concluded only by 2014 at the earliest—five years later than the deadline, which has already shifted once.

But it is unlikely the commission will receive more money from the treasury, given the current budgetary climate, said land researcher Michael Aliber, of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape.

Aliber said there is “some reality to the commission’s claims about land prices, since they have risen dramatically in recent years, particularly between 2006 and 2007, though they have been in decline since”.

But the commission tends to spend about 40% of its budget on 5% of its projects, he added. “I would say that there is room to manoeuvre that has not been seriously explored. The irony is that some of the most expensive projects are the most problematic.”

Some critics have suggested that the financial woes of the commission might be used to lobby for the government’s controversial expropriation Bill, expected to be reintroduced later this year. But Aliber said he could not see how expropriation will significantly lower the costs of restitution.

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