At a one day conference on land Rights and how traditional leaders would take the lead in instilling sanity into the land sector, Green Scenery; a civil society organization over the weekend engaged sixty five Paramounts Chiefs (PCs) from across the country at the Wusum
Hotel in Makeni.
In attendance also were officials from line ministries like Local Government, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, local councils, and members of the Action for Large Land Acquisition Transparency (ALLAT) including the Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food and Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR) among others.
In his opening remarks, the chairman of the occasion who also doubles as the Provincial Secretary of the Northern Region; Ahmed Muctarr Mustapha disclosed that eighty percent of cases reported to his office are land related. This is why he stressed that it was very important that traditional leaders meet and discuss issues of land and to jointly come up with ways of addressing the challenges plaguing the land sector.
He briefly explained the 2 land tenure systems (Freehold in the Western Area and the Communal system in the provinces) noting that there were attempt to harmonize them during the Constitutional review process but it was not fruitful. He lauded the work of Green Scenery noted that Green Scenery in 2014 organized a similar conference which demonstrate their commitment to achieving land sanity in the country.
Welcoming guests especially colleague Paramount Chiefs, the Paramount Chief of Bombali Sebora Chiefdom, Hon. PC Bai Sebora Kasanga II described land as a very important commodity which they (PCs) are custodians for. He accepted the fact that PCs have been having serious challenges in thoroughly administering land in their respective chiefdoms and the country at large. PC Kasanga said they too are very much concern about the pattern of land management in the country as its becoming very contentious between and among Sierra Leoneans. According to the PC, many people in the country will claim ownership of a particular piece of land with authentic documents signed by officials of the Ministry of Lands and its line agencies. He advised that, there should be proper coordination and consultation between and among all agencies dealing with land issues in order to avoid land conflict.
The Honorable Paramount Chief emphasized that the development of the National Land Policy of 2015 is a step in the right direction as it goes a long way to suggesting best practices into proper land management in the country. He maintained that the policy will help them (Paramount Chiefs) to address the numerous problems and complaints they receiving from their subjects.
Explaining the rationale behind the conference, the Director of Green Scenery; Joseph Rahall expressed his appreciation for the efforts exerted so far by the government in improving land management in the country. He explained that a whole chapter on land has been included into the proposed Draft Constitution. This inclusion is not unconnected to the position paper presented to the Constitutional Review Committee by Green Scewnery and other Proponents of Land rights in the country. He said the conference is meant to bring together PCs to enhance their knowledge and to discuss efficient strategies on land administration in line with the National Land Policy and the Voluntary Guidelines on Governance of Land Tenure.
The conference create the platform for all stakeholders to tease out issues around land and tenureship rights and to make available information to PCs so the will be able to make informed decisions during their custodianship.
In his remarks, the Coordinator of ALLAT; Abdulai Bun Wai disclosed that large scale land investment leads to conflict as it is evident in districts where multinational companies are operating. He added that landowners are aggrieved that multinational companies pay surface rents through paramount chiefs which they believe should be the other way round. He said, ALLAT is of the view that all land lease agreements presently signed multinational companies should be reviewed inline with the new Land Policy.
Declaring the conference officially opened, the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development; Maya Kaikai said that his government has made tremendous strides in achieving equity and sanity into the land sector including making it possible for women to own land.
He asserted that hardly any development in any country will take place without availability and accessibility of land. He challenged PCs to correctly use their powers to promote peace, equality among their subjects and not to intimidate them. He pledged his ministry's continues support and collaboration with Green Scenery and other CSOs.
Representatives of other institutions like Welt Hunger Hilfe, MAFFS and District Council among others made meaningful contributions.
Paramount Chiefs raised concern that the amount of money paid by multinational companies as surface rent is very small as it could not be compared to other countries in the sub region.
The said inasmuch as the country needs foreign investment; it is good to have an investment that will benefit the investors, the country and the people.
At the end, participants pledged their unfettered supports to Green Scenery in addressing issues of land rights in the country. The National Land Policy, the VGGT and other community protocols were distributed to all those present.
By Martinet Sesay