Why Sabotage The Lands Minister?

 

“Nothing will stop me” was the avowed statement of the resilient, unstoppable Minister of Lands, Housing and the Environment, Dr. Dennis Sandy after a lawless gang that was allegedly incited by land grabbers in the Morgaybga community last week Thursday assaulted him and a lands’ verification team.

Clearly, the intention of the land grabbers that incited the mob to attack the Lands Minister and his team was not only to sabotage Dr. Dennis Sandy but to also instill fear into him in order to deter him from conducting any further investigation into how people in that community came to lay claim to hundreds of acres of state land.

Land grabbing in the Western Area has over the years after the civil conflict seen huge displacements of population with the one in Freetown soaring because of the large influx of internally displaced people, which became a very lucrative enterprise.

Influential community people, including so-called land owning families, headmen and women and ordinary land grabbers, who know how valuable land is for various economic and social purposes, grabbed the opportunity to apportion to themselves large tracts of state land.  In the process, the price of land in the Western Area that used to be reasonably priced started shooting up astronomically. Today, people, who claim to own lands in the communities where the Lands Minister has undertaken to recover public lands, charge at least Le10 million per town lot.

Repeatedly, Dr. Sandy has informed the communities where public lands have been taken over as community land that there is no such thing as community land in the Western Area. To sensitize the people on this, since assuming office after the ‘New Direction’ Government came to power on 4th April, 2018, Dr. Sandy has held several consultative meetings with communities across the Western Area Rural District (WARD) where land grabbing is notorious, to inform both their leaders and the people that land belongs to the people with the government as its administrator.

For the land grabbers that now see their free-for-all days numbered, Dr. Sandy must be stopped at all cost. That explains the riotous conduct against him and the Ministry’s team at Morgaybga last Thursday. The Lands Minister is reported have said while he operates democratically and consultatively, that does not mean that he would allow anyone to stand in the way when dispensing the duty of restoring sanity to land administration in Sierra Leone.

Let it be understood by the general public that what Dr. Sandy is doing is in the interest of the landless who cannot afford to pay Le10 million or Le20 million for a town lot. Thus his intention is to repossess all state lands that have been grabbed by unscrupulous Sierra Leoneans and have them distributed democratically so that whoever wants land will be able to own a town lot by simply applying to the Ministry of Lands and paying the minimum fee by yearly installments. As such, the battle line is sharply drawn. Dr. Sandy has vowed that he would not work with land grabbers that now see him as their enemy; nor would he condone them. “Those who dare to stand in my way must be ready to face the full force of the law,” the Lands Minister is quoted as saying when declaring an unmitigated war against land grabbers, starting with naming and shaming them publicly. The exercise that he has undertaken in Morgaybga, according to report, would serve as a model.

What should be understood in this light is that the forested hills in communities such as Morgaybga which have been dangerously encroached upon are a cause of environmental degradation due to deforestation. We all saw the mudslide at Mortormeh on the slope of Mount Sugar Loaf on Monday 14th August, 2017. Similar disasters are waiting to happen in other disaster prone communities if stern action is not taken now to stop further deforestation of the hills and mountains in the Western Area.

So for those who would want to think that Dr. Sandy is heartless Minister out to deprive people of their lands, the truth is far from that. The environment belongs to us and, therefore, destroying it through deforestation is threatening our medium and long-term existence and survival in terms of water supply and climate change. We must therefore understand that such selfishness and greed is unacceptable.

Meanwhile, as all this is being said, what Dr. Sandy and the Bio administration that has vowed to fight against lawlessness and indiscipline should do is to tackle the problem of proper lands management, particularly in the Western Area, which stems from inside the Ministry of Lands. There are certain people, including senior officials like Directors and Surveyors, who have worked in the Lands Ministry for donkey’s years in league with land grabbers. The logic of the allegation is very simple. All lands that people claim to own must have survey numbers and title deeds. How come the same piece of land would have two survey license numbers or two title deeds if one of them has not been definitely forged?

Besides, can Lands Ministry officials not easily and distinctly distinguish – even at a cursory glance – a fake from an authentic document? So you see where the problem lies? When criminals bond together, to get one to expose and prosecute the other is normally not an easy task.

At the same time, Dr. Sandy cannot hope to go far with sanitization of land administration in this country without a forensic investigation of the staff of the Administrator General’s Office responsible for registering and documenting title deeds.

The courts also bear a hand in the corruption of land administration in this country by listening to and watching for what comes out of the pockets of the land grabbers for them because if actually they are impartial in dispensing justice and swiftly, it is very simple to prove ownership of a contested piece of land. First, let the court look carefully at the documents claiming ownership and when they were prepared and how are they lodged at the Administrator General’s Office. Even without a microscope, it is very easy to tell the difference between a document that was prepared in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1900 and 2000. And if the document claiming ownership has been backdated, it would not tally with others in the same series in terms of the texture of the paper used, ink, amongst other identifications.

As such, if Dr. Sandy wants to win the war against land grabbers, he needs a wider network of officials including the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of the Sierra Leone Police (CID), the cooperation of the Law Officers Department and the Administrator General’s Office.

We do not think that he can rely on the courts to cooperate well with him; so he would have to seek extra judicial powers to prosecute land grabbing cases. We therefore we wish Dr. Sandy well in his noble endeavor that seeks to empower the landless by eliminating land grabbers despite they too are truly determined to fight back through sabotage and order underhand tricks at their command.