Land tax court declared invalid

Namibian By Werner Menges 12 September 2013

THE planned sitting of the Valuation Court, which had to consider and rule on commercial farm owners’ objections against the land tax valuation of their farms, was declared null and void by a judge of the High Court in Windhoek yesterday.

THE planned sitting of the Valuation Court, which had to consider and rule on commercial farm owners’ objections against the land tax valuation of their farms, was declared null and void by a judge of the High Court in Windhoek yesterday.

The ruling by Judge Elton Hoff has left the provisional farm valuation roll in limbo, leaving the government with no basis to charge the land tax on commercial farm owners. The previous valuation roll lapsed at the end of March this year. In the meantime, a constitutional challenge to the legal basis of the land tax also remains pending in the High Court.

Judge Hoff said the reasons for his decision to declare the sitting of the Valuation Court, which was scheduled to take place from 30 August to 13 September, as null and void would be provided by Friday next week.

The Valuation Court was tasked with hearing farm owners’ objections against the valuation of their farms in the provisional valuation roll, and would have had to rule on those objections and change farm valuations where objections were upheld.

Judge Hoff was informed this week that a total of 2 759 owners of commercial farms had lodged objections against the valuation of their farms in

the provisional valuation roll.

The new valuation roll, which is usually valid for five years, is set to replace the previous farm valuation roll, which was valid until the end of March this year. With the previous valuation roll no longer valid, there are no farm values legally in place on which the land tax to be paid by farm owners can be calculated and levied.

Farm owners objecting against the provisional valuation roll are complaining that sharp increases in the official land tax value of their farms are unrealistic, and that the new valuation of their farms was not done in a rational manner.

In terms of the Land Valuation and Taxation Regulations, which were issued under the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act, the value of agricultural land must be determined by having regard to the carrying capacity of the land. At the same time, the value of improvements on the land and any depreciation of the value of the land caused by overgrazing, bush encroachment or other bad farming practices should be disregarded when the value of the land is determined, the regulations state.

Judge Hoff gave his ruling in an urgent application that was launched by a close corporation, Kambazembi Guest Farm CC, that owns a farm in the Waterberg area in the Otjiwarongo district, after the planned session of the Valuation Court got off to a wobbly start at the beginning of last week.

The close corporation, represented by its sole member, Joachim Rust, also lodged the case in which the constitutionality of key sections of the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act and the regulations issued in terms of it are being questioned.

On the scheduled starting date of the Valuation Court’s session one of the appointed members of the court was absent without any explanation, prompting a postponement of the sitting to Monday last week.

On Monday, the planned proceedings hit a new snag, when the presiding magistrate acceded to a request for her recusal from the court.

The legal team representing the close corporation in the urgent application have argued that, in the absence of one of the court’s members, it was not properly constituted. They have also argued that after the magistrate’s recusal, the four-member court had to be constituted anew, and the entire process of appointing the court and giving at least 60 days’ notice of its planned session has to take place from the start again.

They have also argued that the announcement of the sitting of the Valuation Court in the Government Gazette, in which the dates for the court’s session were stated as “from 30 August to 2013 September 2013”, was unintelligible and vague, with the result that the published notice is invalid.

They have further argued that the period during which the provisional valuation roll lay open for inspection was one day short of the prescribed 30 days, which in their view also meant that the notice announcing the court’s session was invalid.

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By Gerrit Vermeulen