by michael eli dokosi/www.blakkpepper.com/ghana
The Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), the local chapter of Transparency International has held a multi-stakeholder land forum dubbed “Role of Civil Society in the Land Discourse” at the Tomreik Hotel in Accra.
The forum looked at the how land possession, access, user rights and inheritance affected women pertaining to the culture in northern Ghana. To better illustrate the challenges and threats faced, a documentary was screened.
There was concern that Ghana’s land bill needs to be passed into an act. Torching on what work went into gathering the data and information which makes up the bill, participants were briefed on the Land and Corruption in Africa Project (LCA) started years ago liaising with different stakeholders.
The GIZ or German Development Co-operation made funds available for several African countries which Ghana accessed and used for the project to gather baseline evidence that in northern Ghana, ownership of land by women especially widows came with issues especially when the widow had no male child.
Although there exist the Lands Commission and Office of the Administration of Stool Lands, it emerged corrupt practices had hampered efforts to trace original land owners or those with legitimate deeds as multiple sale of same land to multiple buyers was a key source of violence and land cases at the courts.
Although the Land Bill has been around since 2013, which is to integrate all existing land laws into a codified one, parliament is yet to pass it into law requiring that a panel works on it to reflect current exigencies.
To stimulate the conversation on a codified land law for Ghana, the GII creates platforms for civil societies to identify opportunities to better impact on the issues of land. The GII established in 1999 seeks for a corruption free society with people in power acting accountably and promoting good governance.
Although the GII lacks the mandate to arrest and prosecute, its executives say once the constitution mandates it (citizens) to fight against corruption, its doing just that.
Michael Henchard Okai, Project Coordinator for LCA/Interfaith took participants through gains chalked on a project undertaken to empower locals in Northern and Upper East regions about land ownership and retention.
It emerged since Ghana was a chiefly agrarian economy; it depended on large tracks of land for production often having multiple need for land.
Challenges include multiple sale of lands, scattered lands, dispute over land cases in court for over 2 decades, and land documents being accessible at the Lands Commission or other appropriate quarters but the situation being different outside Accra.
The GII Land Interventionist Project helped over 1,200 communities as Advocacy and Legal Advice Centers (ALAC) aided residents to retrieve over GHc225,400.00 withheld compensation.
Three baseline research was conducted adding to data presentation on Women, Land and Corruption.
Citizens got empowered as they held land discussions and were a part of radio awareness programme. The youth were engaged given they are often used to perpetuate violence in land disputes while queenmothers were enrolled in as peer educators and influencers.
On way forward for having access to land and owning it which will not cost an arm and leg or lead to death, the consensus was that paralegal training had to be improved. Community members had to be supported, awareness created, have land appreciation clauses, improve monitoring by sector agencies and improve multisector stakeholder dialogues.
Researcher and land law expert Prof. John Tiah Bugri who served as the resource person for the GII forum submitted land was a critical national asset such that its governance had national development ramifications.
He stated changes in the political ecology required new ways of addressing the land issues and challenges. Prof. Bugri informed the house that since colonial times, land demarcation and appropriation as well as its sale had always brought with it heat noting it took the Cape Coast intelligentsia and Mensah Sarbah to tell the colonial government that they got it wrong with their approach as Ghanaian lands came with deeper ties and affected people deeply.
Key issues with Ghana’s land ownership include accessibility to both males and females, tenure security (some people have migrated onto lands for years yet have no right to own lands) and environmental degradation.
Prof. Bugri also disclosed only 8 percent of Ghana’s land has been mapped warning that it was a poor reflection on the country.
He submitted the National Land Policy of 1999 was a good policy but given new threats, in 2009 there was a call for a review to cover environmental degradation, climate change and ‘landguardism.’
That call Prof. Bugri who is at the Department of Land Economy at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology stated “led to a six member committee which although had no legal force looked at the inter-boundary markings bordering on security of the state and security of tenure and rights.”
To better streamline the process for acquiring land safely the Ghana Land Administration Project I and II which is pushing for the passage of the Land Bill into an Act has been in the works since 2003 with drafts one, two and three already done.
“35,000 land cases are pending in the courts with our research showing 40 to 50 percent of cases in the courts being land related with a minimum of 3 to 5 years and a maximum of 8 to 15 years exhausted when a case travels from a trial court, appellate court to the supreme court,” Prof. J.T. Bugri rendered.
For the good professor, the issue of vested lands needs serious attention noting there’s need for a policy direction which handles issues relating to vested lands on a case by case basis. Again he called for the concession regime allowing parties to do logging in forests as well as undertake mining to be better policed while adding that non-taxation of undeveloped lands and peri-urban lands where a buyer takes huge acres to resell at greater profit was unacceptable needing state action.
For his part, Chairperson, Select Committee on Lands and Forestry; Hon. Francis Manu-Adabor informed the house that for eight months following a stakeholder’s forum, a clause by clause consideration of the Land Bill was undertaken forwarded to the plenary adding from the work done, the minister was advised to forward the report to the Attorney General for all concerns to be addressed.
He explained the delay with the passage of the bill is because the bill was withdrawn noting “when we rise in August the bill will be studied and submitted during the next sitting,” the legislator declared.
He urged Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) not to relent but continue to lobby for the bill’s passage vigorously adding the bill had almost 270 clauses requiring keen work.
Former Ghanaian Minister for Lands and Natural Resources; Hon. Collins Dauda reckoned one reason why the land bill has taken so long to be passed is because of the reshuffling of the land minsters within two years of appointment noting by the time the minister settles and understands the nuances of Ghana’s land hurdles and ready to push the land bill, he is out of office moved to another ministry.