Editorial Comment: Title deeds need to be in right hands Over 1,5 million homeowners are expected to benefit from the exercise, which has since been rolled out countrywide following the opening of a regional office in Bulawayo last year.

THE major programme of regularising a large range of unplanned and semi-planned settlements and making sure the house owners have title deeds is now moving towards the final preparatory stages, largely making sure that the title deeds go to the right people, those who built the houses.

The last thing anyone needs is the criminal element muscling in once again, so the process of individual checks now in progress until the end of next month is important. 

House owners should be eager to go through the process of collecting and submitting the required documentation. This is, after all, for their benefit. 

Considering some the conmen around who are now in jail after messing around with fake title deeds, the Government would be remiss if it did not make the checks. People need to distinguish between the problem inherited by the Government, which it is regularising, and present strenuous efforts to stop new land barons pushing their way in. 

There is a difference between those left in the lurch by barons, and having a whole lot of new areas invaded by a new generation of criminals.

The major decision for regularisation wherever possible was made by President Mnangagwa and central Government, that those who were taken in by the land barons selling land illegally, and profiteering while they did so, should be able to obtain legal ownership.

One major practical reason for this, besides the need for fairness and justice, was that a great deal of development of services is required on most of those land-baron estates. 

Roads have to be built, sewers laid, water mains installed and the electricity distribution grid extended. The barons are obviously not going to pay or do the work: they took the money and ran and by now will have squandered the cash.

In a normal urban development, the land developer is the one who goes through the planning process, then invests the money in the services, with the local authority bound to check that minimum agreed standards have been met, a process requiring inspections, and then signing off.

This is why generally speaking urban stands are lot more expensive than rural plots. The price of an urban stand is not really the land, which unless it is in such a desirable location that there is a respectable location mark-up. 

The cost is basically the cost of the servicing the stands with a bit of a profit on the stands set aside in the plans for shopping centres and other commercial land, and the developer being bound to hand over a chunk for free to the Government and local authority for the schools, health and recreation facilities.

Often these could combine a small area of building land and stretches of wetlands for sports fields and public parks. In the old suburbs everything from the first public park, Harare Gardens onwards, frequently started off as a wetland. 

Generally, with a proper developer and a local authority on the ball this works out and in some cases the local authority or the Government is the developer. The main difference in the past between private and public development was that in most high-density suburbs in the public sector there was a zero profit margin, except perhaps for commercial stands. There were no losses for ratepayers or taxpayers to pick up, but no profits.

The land barons were the ones who messed that up. In many cases there were layout plans, only the first stage in a development, although we have had cases where these were on unsuitable land that no one should build on, or ate into the public land that was reserved for social services like schools and recreation. Regularisation and title deeds open the doors for the new stand owners to be able to finance the required work, to convert their suburb into a real suburb since they will have the required collateral needed for the financing, and just as important have the incentive to increase the value of their properties.

It may not be a single immediate development, and in most areas can be done in phases, but it will need to be done to bring these suburbs up to the same level as the older suburbs that were done properly. 

We would imagine the Government will need to be involved to make sure that the finance arrangements are fair and affordable. But fortunately the new stand owners as they get their title deeds will be starting with a clean slate, owing nothing more for the land and having had to finance their home themselves. While the Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities is very keen on having the maximum number of those affected getting their title deeds, and has made it clear that they will, there will obviously be the odd exception. 

We have already seen this along the banks of the lower Marimba River in Harare, where the runoff from around a third of the city is concentrated into a floodplain and where we have seen a few dozen houses flooded. 

Already steps have been taken to allocate alternative housing with the Ministry keen on getting families restarted under a decent roof. But this is only a tiny percentage of the housing, is not the fault of the house owners, and can easily be sorted out. So almost everyone is going to get the title deed for where they are now living.

Civil law requires accurate descriptions of each stand on a title deed, to avoid any disputes in the future. 

Fortunately, this process was made possible easily using modern technologies, such as satellites, rather than the slow and expensive surveying methods of the past, and most of that work is now complete, hence the present stage of checking and certifying every stand holder before converting them into a stand owner.

The National Housing Ministry has made it clear that this process is meant to move everyone up to the title deed stage, and that the fears that seem to be circulating in some quarters are totally groundless. Plenty of time has been given to the stand holders to gather the required documentation and information and get this to the Ministry, and we hope they all do so.

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