Lands Minister Spits Fire

 

Blunt outspoken Minister of Lands, Dr. Denis Moinina Sandy has broken silence to clarify certain contentious land matters that he has lately been accused of dealing with unsatisfactorily by some individuals and communities, particularly in the Western Area.

Not an administrator known for mincing his words, a proud Dr. Sandi said that since he took office on the 28th of May, 2018, he has so far succeeded in transforming the Ministry of Lands, Housing and the Environment through effectively changing processes and procedures for acquiring state land.

Before now, he said, things were shrouded in the ministry. To make the process of land acquisition easier and more transparent, he said that in the first time of the history of the ministry, he has established a robust Verification and Corporate Unit and a transparent Freehold Committee.

His game plan for ensuring proper management of land in the entire country so that everybody will have a share of it involves controlling its development, ensuring that people obtain building permits and communities have access roads.

Concerned about the environment, he said that is why his ministry held a state-of-the-art environmental protection conference at the Miatta Conference Hall in Freetown so that the government no longer has to wait for disaster to happen.

Dr. Sandi who said he spends 70 percent of his work time in the field reported that he has been very busy reclaiming state lands right across the length and breadth of the country. In the Western Area, he reported that he has reclaimed about 400 acres of state land from grabbers and illicit occupiers.

Reacting to allegations of him being aggressive in performing his duties, and does not give people opportunity to state their cases, Dr. Sandi lamented that this nation is full of liars who do not speak the truth. He explained that all those who make allegations of highhandedness or illegality against him, none of them has ever taken him to court or bothered to engage with him to state their cases.

The method he employs to reclaim state lands he called positive aggression, and challenged anybody to come forward and say he has been rude to them whilst doing his reclamation work. “We have to be hard,” he said, “people settle on land for which they have no document.” He maintained that the majority of those making false allegations against him do not have authentic documents for the state lands that they claim to be theirs.

Why he does not take matters to court, he said, is because land matters drag long in court, “so we serve notices that are not honored. We mark X people deface them. We give final warning before moving.” He was replying to the concern raised by the Bar Association that he is in violation of the law, noting that what the government does is take preventive steps. “Court order comes in when we have to demolish house,” he explained. Adding, “I am taking my time.” The appropriate thing for the Bar Association to have done, he said, was to first engage with him to hear his own side of the story.

Dr. Sandi highlighted that his mandate is to provide effective control and management of state lands and the environment, for which he has deployed lands officers countrywide. His aim, he said, is to create a sound administrative system that gives lands to everyone.

On the question of him acting illegally, Dr. Sandi who fumed that nobody should underestimate when it comes to land matters because he has documents affirmed that his actions and work guided by several instruments including the Lands Act, Forestall Act and the Environmental Act.

With the controversy raised by the Creoles, Dr. Sandi explained that before independence, state lands were called crown land and are properly recorded and not difficult to identify. The lands along the coast, the hills, the forests, certain parts of inner Freetown, he said, are all state lands.

The only private lands in the Western Area, he said, are those that bear statutory declaration and long occupancy but that both to become authentic have to be signed and authenticated by the government, meaning his ministry. Such properties, he said, must have the signature of the private surveyor and the Director of Surveys in the Ministry of Lands.

On claims by the Creoles that he has dispossessed them of lands that were bequeathed to them by their grandparents, Dr. Sandi said that they do not act arbitrarily, stating that it is not correct. “We are not targeting anybody or tribe.”

He gave the example of the Gloucester Saddle which, he said, when he became minister was a vast unoccupied stretch of land that people have expropriated that he has reclaimed. Certain communities have private unoccupied lands like Hamilton, Murray Town, Wilberforce, etc, adding that Western Area has a lot of state lands which they can easily identify as the ministry has a very good cadastre system. The places where lands have been reclaimed, he said, had SLS – Sierra Leone Survey beacons.

For those that falsely claim state lands to be theirs who instead of going to the ministry to regularize their claimed ownership using the media to cast aspersions at him, Dr. Sandi said “We can help you to get document to get claim to the land,” such, he said, has been done for people in Grafton who built on state land but had no legal documents.

On allegations that he has been demolishing people’s houses, Dr. Sandi said angrily, “Nobody’s house has been touched.” What, he said, they have been demolishing is corrugated iron sheet structures (pan bodies).

Giving the rationale for the action, Dr. Sandi said that if you allow people to occupy state lands that, he said, should not be encroached upon; they are very had to evict.

Dr. Sandi further explained that the reclaimed lands will be planned and allocated accordingly to applicants.

Another reason for his robust control approach to land management, he said, has to do with environmental despoliation for which the ministry is working with line agencies including Environment Protection Agency (EPA), civil society and the press. Charlotte for example, he said, is an environmentally protected enclave as a landslide took place there in the 1940s. Because of landslides and other negative occurrences, the ministry now insists that people should obtain permit from the ministry before building, which used to be the norm before the entrance of the free for all days.

In summary, Dr. Sandi explained that the essence of his ministry’s control and reclamation of state lands includes not dispossessing future generations by striking a fine balance between illegal ownership and legal ownership. The lands that they are going after, he said, have fake documents, fake site plans due to the involvement of corrupt officials within his ministry, especially directors of survey. What he wants is complete sanity in the lands sector with each person being able to legally acquire two town lots. He ended by saying, “I am doing the right thing.”