By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
For the past decades Sierra Leone has had more than enough trouble and deadly disputes emanating from the issue of land acquisition, ownership and grabbing. The courts are awashed with land cases, people have been duped, and others brutally killed over land issues. At the heart of all of these is the Ministry of Lands (for short) which has the principal responsibility to protect, preserve, maintain and effectively distribute state lands in the country in a free and fair manner.
People have accused the Ministry of being one of the most corrupt government institutions and the root cause of most of the troubles relating to land issues in the country. Under the New Direction Government of the Sierra Leone People’s Party led by President Julius Maada Bio things seem to be changing for the better, although the Minister of Lands, Dr. Denis Sandy, who is having his second stint at the embattled ministry (the first being under the All People’s Congress government in 2009-2010) has recently come under attack from sections of the media for alleged corruption and unlawful demolition of people’s houses and for which the Anti-Corruption Commission reportedly paid him a visit.
In this first part of an exclusive interview, Dr. Sandy explains the new processes and procedures his ministry has put in place to acquire land.
Refined Processes and procedures
The first thing we did when we entered this ministry in May of 2018 is to refine the processes and procedures in the management and acquisition of both state and private lands in the country and to meet the demands of the 21st century.
So now what you need to know to acquire state land has been extremely simplified. All you need to do is to send in your letter of application, and most people have done that. As long as you are above 18 years of age and you are a Sierra Leonean, send in your letter of application to the ministry, saying you are a Sierra Leonean of more than 18 and you want to construct your house or probably a business entity; attached two passport size photos with the photocopy of the first page of your passport or any other means of identification.
Through this process we have to date received about 1,000 applications which are now being processed. For the very first time in the history of this ministry, we have established a Verification and Complaints Unit where members of the public can make report regarding land matters.
Letter of Offer
People who have been fortunate to get State lands overtime, receive what we call a Letter of Offer on conditions that first, for three or seven years as the case maybe, you are not supposed to cut down any tress and if you have not developed the land for up to three years, automatically you have lost that particular plot of land.
Of course, if you come here with your letter of offer, first we verify it to see whether you are still in line with the conditions that were indicated in that letter.If we are okay with it, then we will give you a slip and then you go and make your payment directly to the bank. I am pleased to say that since we introduced this particular method, complaints regarding duplication- two or three people fighting for land- under the New Direction administration is yet to my knowledge. I can’t say it has stopped but, believe me, I’m yet to have a single account of two or three people fighting for a piece of land.
What has happened overtime, from 1996 to 2000, is that people received these letters of offer and they did not do any kind of development on those grounds or lands and we have made series of press releases that if you don’t develop your land over a three-year period, automatically you will lose that land. Yet people were attempting to go and make payment to the banks and at that time, the procedures were not clear. So now you come in here and when we notice that yes you have gone against that particular condition, automatically that land no longer belongs to you. But if you are still interested, now you can now reapply and we will go through the process to determine that particular land.
After the application process, I am pleased again to announce that for the very first time we have established a Freehold Committee and we have given freehold for now to about 60 to 70 people and the records are here. Some people are yet to come to collect their freehold.
Remember that it was very difficult for people to receive their freehold documents from this ministry. This was a ministry that was so secretive that you hardly knew what was going on here. But now, every Wednesday people have been queuing here, we’ve interviewed them and of course if you have met the criteria regarding the freehold application, automatically we would just approve it. That means that yes you are up to date in terms of your lease payment, you have your building permit and you have done some degree of development (60%) on the said land- either you have completed the construction of the said house or you have roofed the house; and not somebody who have just started the construction but shouting that you want freehold.
Moreover, some people sell these lands for $70,000 or $80,000 at the disadvantage of government. Don’t forget that most often you hardly pay anything during your application for State lands.
So what we have done is we have taken care of the entire process of registering land for people. When you come here and succeed for your freehold interview and pay the amount of money to the ministry and at the end of the day we can call you to come and collect your conveyance. We register it through the Law Officers Department and the Office of the Administrator General. Once you have passed that stage, be rest assured you will have your conveyance.
Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association- Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).