SIERRA LEONE: Lands Minister calls for inclusive system in land development

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

Dr. Dennis Sandy: all-inclusive approach to management of land in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone’s Minister of Lands, Housing and Environment, Dr. Dennis Sandy, has urged stakeholders to join his ministry to adopt an inclusive system in the administration and development of land in the small West African country.

Speaking at a one-day workshop on the Implementation of the National Land Policy in the context of Responsible Agricultural Investments organized by Solidaridad Sierra Leone on Tuesday at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Freetown, Dr. Sandy emphasized that the land governance situation in the country is a cause for concern.

“The land situation in the country is really, really serious; that is why we must ensure an all-inclusive system (driven by the ministry and land owning families) that strengthens relations for planning, administration and land use for proper management and development of the agricultural sector,” said Dr. Sandy.

The Minister of Lands, who described his presence at the workshop as a demonstration of his ministry’s commitment to the issues of land in the country, noted that nowadays people sign contract for land in rural areas without even consulting his Ministry (and Government) which he said is against the laws of the land.

“Our role as a ministry does not only stop at surveying exercises,” he clarified. “My ministry should be involved in all arrangements, from start to finish. We know we have challenges with our two land tenure systems, but the practice of our local authorities giving land to investors for commercial use without our consent must stop.”

At the same workshop, Dr. Sandy’s colleague, Deputy Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Hon. Tetema Tondoneh equally lamented the exclusion of his ministry in land development in the rural areas.

Meanwhile, the Lands minister warned that agricultural investment- no matter how huge the capital involved- should not be at the expense of the environment.

“Every investment in our land should take into account the conservation, protection and promotion of our environment. My ministry should be at the fore front of every land use,” he said, adding that more often than not rural people depend on land for their livelihood and their rights must be safeguarded.

The workshop, organized by Solidaridad, seeks to share experiences and lessons learnt from their successful intervention in Makpele chiefdom where tensions were mounting between the people and the company Natural Habitats Sierra Leone (NHSL) regarding the lease of 30,700 hectares of land for agricultural purposes. NHSL inherited the lease from West Africa Agriculture II but the people disowned the agreement claiming they were ignorant of such. Solidaridad’s intervention brought all stakeholders together through its DFID-funded LEGEND (Land: Enhancing Governance for Economic Development) project applying international best practices. One of the key outcomes is the reduction of the NHSL’s concession from 30,700 hectares to 2,320 hectares, with a total of 28,380 hectares ceding back to the people of Makpele chiefdom.

Solidaridad is a not-for-profit organization that works globally towards the sustainable production of commodities and has built a reputation as a catalyst for sustainable innovations in commodity supply chain in 50 years. The goal is to improve livelihoods for vulnerable producers, while respecting the environment, one another and the next generation.

Advertisements

SIERRA LEONE: Local Gov’t Minister urges Solidaridad to spread Makpele success story on Responsible Land Based Investment to other areas

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

Deputy Minister of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), Hon. Tetema Tondoneh, has encouraged Solidaridad to replicate its Makpele success story on Responsible Land Based Investmentto other areas in the country to avoid land conflicts arising out of bad land governance practices.

Deputy Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Hon. Tetema Tondoneh: Solidaridad workshop on responsible agricultural investments very timely

“Most of our rural communities are conflict-trapped in relation to land use and development. The people are most times, if not always, excluded from the entire process of planning and decision making even though it’s their land,” said Hon. Tondoneh, shortly after formally declaring open a one-day workshop on the Implementation of the National Land Policy in the context of Responsible Agricultural Investments at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Aberdeen, Freetown, on Tuesday 26th February, 2019.

Citing the recent land conflict involving Socfin agriculture company and the community people of Sahn Malen in Pujehun District as one bad example of land use agreement for agricultural investment, the Minister said most times the relevant line ministries or authorities are usually left out in many of the planning and designing for land acquisition for investment purposes, especially in the rural areas.

“The Paramount Chiefs are not the owners of the land, they are just the holders or custodians. The people are the owners. They must be involved every step of the way and potential investors must follow the laid down procedures through the relevant ministries of Government,” stressed Hon. Tondoneh.

Additionally, he mentioned a certain NGO currently involved in land reclamation in Kono district without the authority of the relevant ministries such as the Ministry of Lands and Ministry of Local Government as well as the local people.

“They (the NGO) got funding from somewhere and they just went into implementation. The emerging consequence of this misguided action is that the people in the district are now clamouring for ownership of the reclaimed lands,” explained Hon. Tondoneh.

The deputy minister further questioned the essence of such types of investment if they do not positively change the conditions or situation of the people but only worsens it.

“Every investment activity has to be community-owned and community-driven. No more supply-driven approaches. Sustainable land use, responsible agricultural investment and peace within the community are essential benchmarks to determine all future investor interventions,” said the Deputy Minister.

People in the rural areas of Sierra Leone are predominantly subsistence farmers and they depend on their land for their livelihood.

Meanwhile, Hon. Tondoneh revealed that with support from the European Union, his ministry has developed Operational Guidelines for all investment interventions and is at an advance stage of putting together the Rural Development and Coordination Policy, which he claims will address all of the challenges currently associated with land use and development in the rural areas. He said there will be a retreat on the second week of March 2019 to finalize this policy.

Describing the workshop as very timely, the Deputy Minister called on every stakeholder to support the implementation of the new policy.

The workshop, organised by Solidaridad, seeks to share experiences and lessons learnt from their successful intervention in Makpele chiefdom where tensions were mounting between the people and the company Natural Habitats Sierra Leone (NHSL) regarding the lease of 30,700 hectares of land for agricultural purposes. NHSL inherited the lease from West Africa Agriculture II but the people disowned the agreement claiming they were ignorant of such. Solidaridad’s intervention brought all stakeholders together through its DFID-funded LEGEND (Land: Enhancing Governance for Economic Development) project applying international best practices. One of the key outcomes is the reduction of the NHSL’s concession from 30,700 hectares to 2,320 hectares, with a total of 28,380 hectares ceding back to the people of Makpele chiefdom.

Solidaridad is not-for-profit organization that works globally towards the sustainable production of commodities and has built a reputation as a catalyst for sustainable innovations in commodity supply chain in 50 years. The goal is to improve livelihoods for vulnerable producers, while respecting the environment, one another and the next generation.

Sierra Leone: Sexual Violence declared a national emergency

Efforts by the First Lady of Sierra Leone have ushered a new beginning for women and girls as the fight against sexual violence intensified.

Rape and Sexual violence are today declared National Emergency at State House in Freetown, and calls for safe homes and DNA forensic lab.

The stance by the Government is lauded a vital component in national development by women organizations, civil society, and the media.

Sierra Leone Rural women share experiences in farming and governance

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

The women participated in a crash planting demonstration of cabbage

A group of women Councilors from the Eastern Region of Sierra Leone have ended a two-day learning and exchange visit to their counterparts in Kabala, Koinadugu District, in the North of the country.

The women from the East, mainly drawn from the women in governance networks in Kenema and Kailahun districts, were interested in farming activities by the women groups in Kabala while they in turn shared their experiences in political governance.

“We see this engagement as a win-win for the women in both regions,” said Jeneba Combey, Head of Governance Project, SEND Sierra Leone, the organisers of the program with funding from Irish Aid and UNDP Sierra Leone. “Both groups shared their experiences including successes, challenges and opportunities. The women from the East are doing well in political representation while the women in Kabala are doing well in agriculture. So it’s a good learning process for both groups.” 

Kabala grows most of the vegetables consumed by the country and women are the main growers.

Led by the President of the Koinadugu Women Vegetable Farmers Association, Haja Sundu Marrah, the women were taken on a conducted tour of the group’s demonstration farm of about 17 acres and later the main farm of 20 acres located seven miles away into the outskirt of the town.

According to Haja Marrah, the farm lands were donated by the Paramount Chiefs as part of their own support to the women farmers. The women farm collectively as a group, but they also have individual farms of their own. They plant a variety of vegetables including cabbage, carrot, onions, tomato and garden eggs. The group participated in a crash planting demonstration of onions while Haja Marrah explained the processes involved till harvesting time.

Most of the women in the group, which started as the Kabala Women Project way back in 1984, did not have the opportunity to go to school, but today, in the estimation of Haja Marrah, “we are degree holders because from our farming we have educated our children, especially our girls, through University and we have been able to build our own houses”.

“The majority of us pay our children’s education fees throughout from the farming we do,” continued Haja Marrah. “Not that our husbands do not want to pay, but the children are many and they could not afford to pay for all of them. Naturally, their preference will be the boys.”

Through this also, she added, they have been able to minimize conflicts usually associated with polygamous homes in which they find themselves since their parents forced them into marriage at the early ages of 13, 14 and 15.

“I was born into a polygamous home and I got married into one as well at the age of 14,” explained Haja Marrah. “My husband has two other wives; I am the third. So you can imagine how our farming activities have helped us overcome these challenges.”

However, the three times AWOL Farmer of the Year lamented lack of market for their produce as a key challenge for them.

“Our main challenge is the market. Before now when we were with FAO, they linked us with the big hotels in Freetown. We supply them by turns; some of us will supply on a Monday, others will supply on Friday and throughout the month. They calculated our supplies for the month and they paid us in dollars. That was the first time we started to earn dollars and that’s when we started building our individual houses,” she explained. “But nowadays they don’t buy from us anymore because they have put rigid criteria in place which are difficult for us to meet.”

To overcome the challenge, the Kabala women now plant more of sweet potatoes and onions and less of other vegetables. Everybody, they argue, eats onions for example and people buy them daily. Moreover, they are easy to grow and can be harvested every two weeks. Most importantly sweet potatoes and onions don’t perish easily.

Moreover, Haja Marrah is positive that the new Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Forestry is showing concerns about their situation.

Meanwhile, the visiting delegation led by the President of the Kenema Women in Governance Network, Fatmata Dassama, shared their experiences in the empowerment of women in the Eastern districts of Kenema and Kailahun. Dassama explained the formation of the women in governance networks in Kailahun and most recently in Kenema. She noted that the foundation for their political empowerment started with the empowerment of women economically through various micro-credit schemes.

“Through the help of our main partner (SEND Sierra Leone) and donors, we benefited from micro-credit loans which enabled us to do small businesses that brought us income,” explained Dassama. “In addition, we were trained on business development, leadership, public speaking and advocacy skills. Soon we started aspiring for political office at district and national levels. Today, we are proud to boast of female Section chiefs, Town chiefs, Members of Parliament and Councilors through support from our governance network projects.”

Unlike the Northern province which includes Koinadugu District, the Eastern province has the highest number of women in political office. In the 2012 national elections, 12 women won seats as councilors in Kailahun District. After the 2018 national elections the Eastern region now boasts 25 female councilors and four Members of Parliament. 

Until recently, the Northern region is renowned for its lack of opportunities for women aspiring for decision making positions at district and national level.

National Assets Commission Presents Status Report to President Julius Maada Bio

The National Assets and Government Property Commission was at State House on Wednesday to present its Status Report for 2018 to His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio in accordance with Section 6 of the Commission’s Act of 1990.

Chairman of the Commission, Abu Hindolo Moseray, said the 2018 report covered major activities the Commission had undertaken since his appointment six months ago. He said the Commission had tried to improve on the corporate image of the Commission through public sensitisation and collaboration with other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAS).

He said the first phase of the report would provide an overview of the existing situation of the management of assets by MDAs for the period under review, with the implementation of a proposed project. He added that they had been working with MDAs to develop a National Assets Policy and compile a comprehensive National Assets Register with an integrated software.

“The Commission is collaborating with line ministries to develop a national data-base of Government Vehicles and Real Estate. This is to establish mechanism for the responsible use of government vehicles and transparent leasing of state lands, allocation and acquisition of real estate. The report also details the prospects and challenges facing the need to collaborate with these MDAs.

“The Commission believes that with this proposed project and the strengthened collaboration with MDAs, transparency and accountability in the handling of government’s assets and properties will considerably improve in the years ahead.

The misuse, abuse and the seeming impunity with which government’s properties and assets are being abused will be a thing of the past,” he assured.

President Bio thanked the leadership of the Commission for their hard work and for putting the report together, saying that there had been challenges in accounting for what belonged to the state. He stated that with the confidence reposed in him, the leadership of the Commission was expected to provide a comprehensive national asset register so that government could properly account for state properties.

“I want to encourage you together with all the other MDAs to cooperate so that we can have the National Assets Register as soon as possible. As a Government that is particularly interested in probity, accountability and transparency, we want to be able, at the end of the day, to account for what belongs to the state, manage and account for everything that belongs to the state,” he said.

Rutile Mining Special Taskforce Presents Reports to President Julius Maada Bio

A Sierra Rutile Special Taskforce, set up by government to investigate the disparities between the Sierra Rutile Mining Company and the workers union, has called at State House to present its findings and recommendations to His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio.

Chairman of the Taskforce, Julius Partai, said it was a pleasure to serve the government and the people of Sierra Leone through the independent taskforce that investigated the incident that occurred at Sierra Rutile a few months ago. He said the investigation was a collective responsibility and noted the he was happy with the support he received from the community people, the police and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.

Mr Partai said their meeting with the President was to present the report, which had cost them sleepless nights, adding that the findings and recommendations in it were well detailed and done with all levels of fairness and integrity. He stated that they were aware of how important the mining sector was, especially in boosting the local economy through payment of taxes and creation of jobs for citizens.

“There are a lot of issues in the report which need the urgent attention of government and we are ready to work with the government to ensure that government benefits from its natural resources. We know that since minerals were discovered in the country our communities have been plagued by a series of issues and sometimes the expectations, in terms of what we should be getting as communities from the mining companies, have not been met.

“Like you know, there are a lot of issues in these communities that needed urgent attention from government and it is our pleasure, based on all those evidence collected and based on all the inputs we have collected from all stakeholders, that this report has been conducted to the best of our knowledge and ability. The next stage, we look forward to the leadership to ensure that the vision of the New Direction is accomplished,” he urged.

On his part, President Bio thanked the team for taking their time to perform to the best of their abilities. He said the nation was trying to regularise a lot of things and that as a government, they were bound to strike the balance to ensure that there was a conducive environment that encouraged investors to operate as well as making sure that the rights of citizens were protected.

He recalled that the issues were creating insecurity in the country and that was why government had decided to intervene. He said he would look into the findings and recommendations of the report to know the different expectations from the company and the community and would continue to engage and dialogue with the various stakeholders to reach a common ground.

He said that: “We want to get this resolved as quickly as possible because we want to move on and do not want this to drag into the momentum that we want for the economy. We will honestly look at what is possible and try to find a middle ground and make sure that the issues are quickly resolved.”

It could be recalled that following the workers’ unrest and strike action at the Sierra Rutile, government held meetings with all the critical stakeholders and a special taskforce was formed to do an independent investigation on the outstanding issues that precipitated the union workers’ strike. The taskforce was facilitated by the Office of the Chief Minister.

Sierra Rutile company produces high quality rutile, ilmenite and zircon from the world’s largest natural rutile deposit.

Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission arrests former Director-General of the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration

For allegedly interfering with ACC investigations, manipulating witnesses and attempting to mislead the Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone on Friday arrest the former Director-General of the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration (SLMA), Dr. Sarah Bendu and her husband, Mr. Dante Bendu.

Dr. Sarah Finda Bendu . Photo credit The Standard Times Press

Dr. Sarah Bendu and her husband, Mr. Dante Bendu have both been detained by the ACC early this Friday morning, 11th January 2018.

Dr. Sarah Finda Bendu who had been on bail since December 22nd, 2018 following investigations into massive corruption at the SLMA during her brief tenure, and her husband, are alleged to have been directly interfering with ACC investigations, manipulating witnesses, attempting to mislead the Commission through interferences with known witnesses and suspects of the Commission and other related obstruction actions.

According to the ACC press release, the arrests are to protect the integrity of the investigation going forward, adding that the ACC thrives on integrity of investigations within the public domain and will not tolerate any tampering of witnesses or investigations by any individual under any circumstances. 

The Commission reassure the general public of its commitment to protecting government property, revenue and resources.