The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in collaboration with Ministry of Lands on Thursday 25th February 2021 organized 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.
The Assistant FAO Representative in charge of Programs, Mr. Harding Wuyango articulated that nothing would have given him the greatest privilege and opportunity than to be part of the Lands, Housing and Country Planning event with other Government officials underscoring that critical among the country’s natural resources is land because its management, acquisition and utilization are still fundamental to the nation’s socio-economic and political stability.
He disclosed that tenure systems increasingly face stress and tension as the growing population in Sierra Leone requires food, that the meeting is to present the Model Land Commission and Customary Land Bills to the Minister of security as environmental degradation and climate change reduce the availability of land, fisheries and forests observing that inadequate and insecure tenure rights increase vulnerability, hunger and poverty that can lead to conflict and environmental degradation when competing users fight for control of these resources.
According to the Assistant FAO Representative, the governance of tenure is a crucial element in determining if and how people, communities and others are able to acquire rights and associated duties, to use and control land, fisheries and forests and revealed that many tenure problems arise because of weak governance and that attempts to address tenure problems are affected by the quality of governance while weak land governance adversely affects social stability, sustainable use of the environment, investment and economic growth.
According to Mr. Harding Wuyango, people can be condemned to a life of hunger and poverty if they lose their tenure rights to their homes, land, fisheries and forests, and their livelihoods because of corrupt tenure practices or if implementing agencies fail to protect their tenure rights underlining that people may even lose their lives when weak tenure governance leads to violent conflict and that responsible governance of tenure conversely promotes sustainable social and economic development that can help eradicate poverty and food insecurity and encourages responsible investment in an attempt to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
He further recalled that in May 2012, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT), that the government of Sierra Leone made a high political commitment to implement the VGGT in February 2014 but noted that since the launch of VGGT implementation in Sierra Leone, enormous success has been achieved including; i) the development and implementation of the 2015 National Land Policy, ii) establishment of a vibrant Multi-Stakeholder Platform (MSP), iii) Pilot systematic demarcation and mapping of customary land rights and iv) supporting the drafting of the Land Commission and Customary Land Bills among others, all initiatives that are in line with the government’s priorities enshrined in the new Medium-Term National Development Plan (MTNDP).
He went on to state that in particular agricultural land is central to livelihoods in rural Sierra Leone, that Sierra Leone is characterized by a dual legal system of customary and statutory law and dual land tenure, with state land and customary land, that the Lands Act was criticized for being gender-neutral and for not tackling women’s precarious access to and ownership of land under customary tenure affirming that indeed, in order to access customary land, which constitutes the largest proportion of land in Sierra Leone, women mostly depend upon a male relative in many regions.
“Low access to land and to property other than land is one of the elements that makes gender inequality in Sierra Leone visible, along with women’s lack of representation in decision-making institutions, low levels of secondary education and high maternal mortality levels.” There are several Legislations enacted by Parliament relating to the land sector in Sierra Leone and its duality, from the Protectorate Land Ordinance of 1927 to the New National Land Policy (NLP of, 2015). It shows that most of the key laws addressing land rights and governance to date before Sierra Leone became independent in 1961,” he enlightened.
Concluding, he informed that FAO, CSOs and Donor organizations have played an important role in the land law reforms in Sierra Leone to create a sustainable land governance system and tenure security for land right holders in Sierra Leone, observed that legislation up-holding gender equality is now present, although in different degrees but that however, the implementation of these legislative frameworks should follow suit, that women must not be made to face discrimination, in part due to social and cultural barriers and the inaccessibility of institutions able to support them concluding that through alignment with donors and development partners, government institutions have been able to acquire institutional control over land and pledged FAO’s commitment to support programs related to sustainable land governance and land reforms in Sierra Leone.
Similar statements were made by other stakeholders while the question and answer session climaxed the interactive event that was chaired by Mr. Jombo Samba, National Coordinator in the Land Reform Secretariat in the Ministry of Lands.