By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
In Part 3 of our exclusive interview with the Minister of Lands, Housing and the Environment, Dr. Denis Sandy, he talks about land grabbing, the land dispute between the Hastings community and the Military, regularization of State lands, land policy, revenue generation and the Demolition Machine donated by a Sierra Leonean living abroad.
It is not easy with regards land administration in this country. Over the past decades, this is an industry that will all know is very lucrative. If you sell a piece of land for $10,000 it simply means that it is a motivational factor to continue selling other lands. The incentive is there and that is the push factor we are working to put under control. Land grabbing will reduce now because we told people that we are not going to play ball with you. I have been in the office and people have called me, saying Doc I have this 10 acres of land, you take two or three please help us. How many men and women will have the guts to resist such temptations but when you put your country first, you will be able to do your job.
The land grabbing scheme in this country is very interesting and wicked. You know how people are grabbing land now, they go in there knowing fully well they don’t have the official documents. They never had official government documents but they rely on their own documents that we deal with most often than not and 99.9% of them are all fake.
Because you don’t have the necessary skills and anybody goes with a conveyance to you and think because they signed it, it is authentic. It is not and we have series of conveyances here stamped and signed but they were never registered. We have received letters from our brothers and sisters abroad complaining that they have these documents and wanted to know whether they are authentic, we told them they are not.
Hastings Community and the Military
This land business is not a child’s play, only God knows what we are going through in this ministry in our attempts to straighten things up for the good of all Sierra Leoneans. Look at the problem between the Hastings community and the military. People entered into the firing zone where the military is training and said this is our land- you either shoot us or you are not going to take our land. We went there again and held a big meeting and thank God for now we have been able to settle it.
We are going there again to request the military to construct a very strong fence and all those private individuals after confirmation that yes they own these private lands there and they are authentic, the government will now compensate them.
There is nowhere in the world where the military is cohabiting with civilians. We can’t sit here and allow people grab lands just like that. Sometimes we have to be so reactionary otherwise we won’t have positive results.
For the very first time, we have got a state-of-the-art machine for our own operation and that has enhanced our work. We have been using the machine to bring down ‘pan-body’ structures. The logistics required to enhance our work for that machine is not easy. Provision for security is also not easy. The machine was donated to us by a Sierra Leonean living abroad who admires the work we are doing; it was never bought by this government. And please know that we have never demolished anybody’s house. We know what we are doing and we want this cleaning-up project to succeed for the good of this country.
Regularization of State lands
For people who have constructed on State lands, we have done what we called regularization. Most people with State lands have been regularized after looking at their documents. Nobody is demolishing anybody’s land. We would rather regularize your documents than demolish your house. But we won’t allow you if you have a ‘pan-body’ in your land; we will break it down as there is a process of reapplying.
The land policy issue is in top gear and we are collaborating with other MDAs, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Environment Protection Agency and NPAA to build up and manage the environment effectively. We are enforcing development control. This is the only country where people are not coming for building permit but when you go there and seize their tools, they see you as a bad person.
The Freetown Environment Act says that nobody should commenced any construction without a building permit. We take too much laxity because of our laws and that should not be allowed to continue.
Also, we have offices now in the regions; we have in Bo, Kenema, Kailahun, Port Loko, Kono, Pujehun and so we are trying. We have paid people in the Mortomeh area and I was in charge of that process, almost Le8 billion. We are so adamant in terms of environmental management. Why can’t we work together to protect our environment rather than wait for disaster to happen? We give people notification; two weeks’ notice to quit before we go on demolition of ‘pan-body’ structure. Now we are developing the concept for the establishment of a land and environmental court.
We are not only flexing our muscles in terms of stopping and reclaiming State lands, but through lease payments, we have been able to collect Le2.9 billion.
Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association- Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).