Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1346, (25 - 31 May 2017)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1346, (25 - 31 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Who owns the land?

Law-enforcement officers have started demolishing encroachments on what they claim is state-owned land, reports Doaa Farid

The government is taking down encroachments on state land
The government is taking down encroachments on state land

Looking for possible ways to bring more cash into state coffers, the government has decided to take steps to regain state-owned land that may have been illegally built upon after a call last week by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

The illegally-taken land is a major concern for the administration. A national committee was formed by Presidential Decree 75/2016 to deal with the question, and the committee, headed by former prime minister Ibrahim Mehleb, has said that it had repossessed a total area of 80,000 acres by December last year.

Shortly after Al-Sisi’s call last week, 17,000 requests were submitted by the country’s governorates to the committee to repossess two million acres of uncultivated land, spokesperson of the committee Ahmed Ayoub said in a statement.

In the same week, the governorates started removing encroachments on a total area of 632 acres, according to a statement by Cairo Governor Atef Abdel-Hamid.

All the governorates were given a deadline of 30 May to regain state-owned land unjustifiably used by third parties, Minister of Local Development Hisham Al-Sherif said on Sunday, adding that those who had cultivated the land or used it for a productive activity could seek to legalise its status.

Al-Sherif added that people who sought to legalise their status needed to submit applications to the governorates and a committee would be formed to study their requests, in coordination with the national committee. Around 5,000 requests to legalise status have been submitted to date.

As the governorates and law-enforcement officers started implementing clearances last week, some landlords and renters have complained that they have already applied to legalise their status.

The manager of a kite-surfing camp in Ras Sedr called Kiteloop, Karim Khashab, told Al-Ahram Weekly that law-enforcement officers had demolished his camp, though he had been coordinating with the Tourism Development Authority (TDA) to obtain a business licence.

“I have rented this camp from the owner for six years. Last August, I was approached by the TDA and told that I should pay business fees to get a licence,” Khashab said, adding that the licence was scheduled to be issued by the last week of May.

“I presented a document from the TDA to inform the law-enforcement officers of my situation, but they carried out the demolition anyway,” he added.

A 550-acre land plot purchased by a media association in 1998 has faced similar hurdles in legalising its status. Sherine Taha, a plot owner, told the Weekly that the land was supposed to be cultivated, “but we found that it was not arable, so the land was transferred from the Ministry of Agriculture to the New Urban Communities Authority [NUCA] to be urbanised,” she explained.

The plot owners in the association were approached by the NUCA to pay fees. “Each plot owner had already paid LE1,000 for every acre he owned, but still the plots were confiscated earlier this week,” Taha said.

Based on the work of the committee, the violations usually take the form either of building on government or agricultural land. There have been 25,000 reported cases of looted state-owned land since 2011, according to under-secretary of the Central Auditing Organisation (CAO) Mahmoud Abdel-Ghaffar, who told the media that 22 million square metres are stolen urban land, while 19,000 acres are arable land.

MP Magdi Malak said in a televised interview last week that any land plot allocated for agricultural purposes, but then used for residential projects, would be confiscated.

Building on agriculture land is illegal under the agriculture laws, and violators can be obliged to pay a fine ranging from between LE10,000 and LE50,000, in addition to having any construction demolished.

Arable land used for urban purposes can be cultivated again after the government repossesses it, agricultural engineer Abdel-Tawab Zidan told the Weekly. “As long as the soil is still fertile, the land can be used for cultivation,” he said.

The land restoration process is happening while the parliament’s Housing Committee is drafting a new law to grant an amnesty for some building violations, including building without a permit and building on arable land.

The parliament has yet to approve the law, which is said to be effective for only one or two years, according to Housing Committee head Moataz Hassan.  

Despite the opposition of the Ministry of Agriculture, Minister of Housing Mustafa Madbouli said in November that amnesties would only be granted for already-existing violations, proposing to allocate 50 per cent of any collected fines for sanitation projects.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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