Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Lands and Country Planning has planned a National Lands Policy Implementation countrywide.
This was revealed in a day’s high-level stakeholders’ interactive session at the Sierra Palms Hotel Complex, Lumley Beach Road in Freetown facilitated by the Technical Working Group on the implementation of the National Land Policy and the Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forestry (TWG-NLP/VGGT).
The event brought together representatives of relevant institutions on land and natural resources to get a first-time interaction with the new Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning, Honorable Dr. Turad Senessie.
In their contributions, various stakeholders-including representatives of the World Bank and FAO, who both joined the meeting via zoom-expressed delight about the Minister’s initiative calling for such a timely interfacing while the World Bank’s Representative assured the Minister of The Bank’s unreserved support to the Government of Sierra Leone in all its development programmes.
The contributor from FAO Rome, promised solidarity with the Government in making land laws better, especially so that food production through large-scale agriculture can be possible.
In a stern tone of passion and sincerity, the civil society representative from Land for Life-NMJD, welcomed the New Minister into a sector he described as ‘chaotic’ and that whose image is deeply embroiled in corruption and disorderliness. He pinpointed at some specific lapses in the land administration, among which include the absence of proper coordination with other MDAs, lack of reliable data on land, land corruption having to do with collusion between investment companies and locals, traditional and national land administrators, dispossession and other economic deprivation meted on marginalized groups- especially women and youths of land owning families and communities and assured the Minister of civil society’s continuous commitment to supporting Government corrects those errors.
Presenting the model laws, the Consultant facilitating the consultations, Eleanor Thompson gave a chronological update on the reform process which she said, started with the formulation and approval of a National Land Policy in 2015, implementation of some of the policy recommendations in the following years and Cabinet approval for the enactment of two land laws-the Customary Lands Right and the National Land Commission Acts in early 2019.
The Consultant further highlighted key contextual issues that the new laws tend to address, amongst which include clarity on ownership and control of land, community rights, women and gender issues, livelihood and fair compensation for land lease, environmental and ecological issues.
Responding, the Minister, acknowledged, in a sincere voice, all the challenges characterizing his Ministry, to the extent that he agreed with the civil society activist naming the Ministry as a chaotic spot, furthered to make his initial comments on some specific provisions of the proposed laws in the modem bills and expressed concerns about the idea of establishing an ‘independent’ Lands Commission, stating that there is no way a commission can be independent from its parent ministry.
The Minister also questioned the idea to limit maximum quantum of land for lease at 5000 hectares and the idea to democratize land deal negotiations and expressed fear that legal retainers hired to represent the interest of communities may end up doing otherwise.
In a stern voice however, the Minister cautioned any tendency of insincerity amongst the pro-reform campaigners, stating that the need to reform the laws should be borne by a genuine nationalistic intent rather than any selfish interest of job creation for people or the duress of meeting donor requirements
Dr. Turad Senesie concluded by requesting that all relevant documents pertaining to the reform process- including Cabinet approval, reports of consultations and the most updated versions of the model bills-be forwarded to him soonest and promised to get himself fully abreast with all the critical issues, be convinced of the need and urgency attached to the reform call, before he would be comfortable to provide the much-needed political leadership.