Dr. Denis Sandy: ‘Sometimes you have to act like an eagle to address land matters, otherwise it will be too late’
In this Part 2 of my exclusive interview with the Minister of Lands, Housing and Environment, Dr. Denis Sandy, he talks about employing what he calls ‘positive aggression’ in addressing controversial land issues, especially in reclaiming State lands; securing a site plan for Fourah Bay College’s 464 acres of land’ settling land dispute between Njala University and land owning families in Mokonday, IPAM and Bureh Town and securing 100 acres of land in Moyamba District for the possible relocation of Sierra Leone’s Correctional Center from its current inappropriate facility at Pademba Road.
Reclaiming State lands
The principal responsibility of this ministry is to protect, preserve, maintain and distribute effectively state lands in the country. But first is to put under control what you think you should have. We are pleased to say that we have made remarkable progress in terms of reclaiming State lands in the Western area regions (urban and rural).
The volume of applications for State land is on the increase in these two regions. Had it not been for the decision we took to suspend applications, it would have been overwhelming. Applications for State lands have closed for now. We are almost inundated with applications. We have to put a stop at some point in time.
We have successfully reclaimed State lands at Gloucester, Sussex, No. 2 River, Grafton, Patwama, Kossoh Town, Orugu, Tokeh and others. We are reclaiming State lands not for us working in this ministry but for Sierra Leoneans in dire need. Dr. Owizz Koroma, the only Pathologist we have in this country, has never had a State land with all the years he has worked. It is only when we came in that we have given him one.
We have employed a strategy called ‘positive aggression’, which means that as long as we are convinced that this land belongs to the State, we go in and reclaim it. When we go out there in the field, we have all the documentation and conveyances as evidence. We have not entered into anybody’s land when it is not a State land. If we did, probably we went there to know whether you have a building and environmental control to build.
Through this strategy we are proud to announce that we have been able to reclaim about 4,800 acres of State lands in the Western regions. For Gloucester, we have reclaimed 2,800 acres.
Not just Western areas
Again, you know the operation of this ministry is not only limited to the Western areas- urban and rural. This is the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Environment for the whole country. You should now understand why we are having so much pressure and people calling us all over this country on land matters. We have been to Bo, Kenema, Makeni and Magburaka on land matters to discuss with land owning families on how we can reclaim and retrieve back government lands and properties.
The reasons they have advanced overtime is that successive governments have failed to pay their lease rent that accumulated to arrears and so that was why they were selling these government lands to private individuals. So we told them two wrongs will never make a right; yes, government wasn’t paying you but that was not really the justification for you to sell or lease government lands.
We held discussions with them and we are pleased to say that as at to date we have paid Le1.5billion to land owning families in Bo and Kenema. Now the reservation lands and airfield lands are now purely government properties. This has never happened in the history of this country. Now we have the State Lands Management Committee and they are responsible for the eventual decision as to who is in fact supposed to have a State land or otherwise and of course we have all our records straight.
Fourah Bay College and Njala University
We have two important tertiary institutions in this country- Fourah Bay College (FBC) and Njala University (NU). FBC has never had a site plan for the land at Mount Aureol on which it sits. Under this administration, we have been able to produce for the attention of FBC their site plan for 464 acres of land and we handed it over last year to the college administration.
For Njala University at Mokonday, last year they were issued a notice to quit by the owners of the land. We went there early February this year to quell and put the situation under control. We engaged with the college authorities and land owning families and the people testified that it was the first time they have actually met in a single open space with the college authorities to discuss the way forward regarding the said land.
IPAM and Bureh Town
There has always been a fracas between the Bureh Town community and the Institute if Public Administration and Management (IPAM). IPAM is relocating to that area and the place is a touristic attraction. We went there and the people complained that the land for IPAM is too vast, and cited the fact that it’s a touristic prime area. The matter is still under consideration but had we not been there on time, the situation would have been totally different because the people were ready to resist them at any time they went there to do construction.
School at Rokel
Similarly, a school has been vandalized at Rokel which borders on land and we have to go there again. People are now encroaching on educational lands and we will not allow that to continue. We understand that processes and procedures should be followed in carrying out our work but not at all times. Sometimes you have to act like an eagle otherwise by the time you are there, it will be so problematic that you will not be able to handle it, and lives would have been lost and all that.
City of Kono
We all know that Kono is on the verge of becoming one of the good cities in terms of education with the establishment of a technology university. We went there again, surveyed 406 acres of land giving for that purpose. We have to talk, convince and even beg the Paramount chiefs to show some amount of consideration to have that land.
Sierra Leone Correctional Service
We have also resurveyed for the possible relocation for the first time the Sierra Leone Correctional Service. We have got almost 100 acres land for them at Songo area, Moyamba district.
Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association- Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).