By Dr. Turad Senesie, Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning

Let me use this opportunity to share with you my vision for the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning.

When I officially assumed office on 8th February, 2021, I set out to scrupulously inquire into why this Ministry has been plagued with a lot of mistrust from majority of Sierra Leoneans as well as foreigners? Allegations and/or instances of negative activities by some senior officials mostly in connivance with desperate land grabbers as well as instances or accusations of certain officials involved in working with land grabbers to dispossess people of their legally acquired lands were alarming to say the least.

It was clear that the sector needed a complete re-engineering. Investigating and solving problems already created was a good way to start, thus the establishment of the Lands Complaints and Conflict Resolution Committee to look into land disagreements spanning from April 2018 to January 2021. This move was not only meant to de-escalate tensions, especially in the Western Area, but equally meant to ensure justice and fairness for the aggrieved citizens. The Committee will also help us understand and document the gravity of problems affecting the land sector.

Following the establishment of the Committee, it was now time to focus on the general governance structure of the ministry which includes policies, administrative structures and procedures to support the overall sector vision.

I inherited a state of near nothingness in the sector – outdated policies, lack of standard operating procedures, neglect of the Housing and Country Planning components of the sector, the unavailability of a national land bank, compounded by the chaos generated on land acquisition and allocation decisions

All too often, we have observed that past administrations have mostly focused attention on the land allocation component of the sector, scarcely addressing the other two equally important components of Housing and Country Planning. Evidently, the housing and country planning affairs were merged into a single directorate – Directorate of Housing and Country Planning, while lands and surveys enjoys being managed by a separate directorate – Directorate of Surveys and Lands. 

In my tenure as Minister, I am determined to address all three components of the Ministry, putting equal emphasis on land management, proper planning of the country and in conjunction with private organizations and individuals, create the environment for the construction and acquisition of affordable houses by all classes of our citizens.

In a bid to achieve these objectives, I have divided the Directorate of Housing and Country Planning into two separate Directorates, namely the Directorate of Housing and Directorate of Country Planning, while still maintaining the Directorate of Surveys and Lands. Country Planning and Housing will take center stage in my administration, while the land sector will serve as the support engine.

  1. The Directorate of Surveys and Lands will focus on the administration and management of all lands in the country. It will oversee the equitable acquisition and allocation of lands to organizations and individuals right across the country. It will create a land bank for investment and national development purposes. It will also work towards digitalizing all land titles and deeds to minimize the incidences of multiple sales of land to different buyers with fraudulent documentations that normally ends in conflicts, long drawn-out litigations, physical confrontations, injuries or loss of lives and property.
  1. The Directorate of Country Planning will be charged with the planning and management of human settlements, including land use planning, urban design and enforcement of development control throughout the country. It will review the Town and Country Planning Act, Cap.81. It will be responsible for the design of development plans (structure and local plans or schemes) to direct the orderly growth and development of urban and rural settlements in the country.
  2. The Directorate of Housing will work with the Sierra Leone Housing Corporation (SALHOC) and other partners to develop and implement a comprehensive housing programme to provide affordable housing throughout the country for low and middle level income earners, encourage the setting up of home finance institutions to facilitate access to mortgage financing to low and middle level income earners, encourage large-scale production and distribution of local building materials, and encourage private ventures to build toilets, bathing facilities and multi-storey car parks in urban towns and cities.

I have now incorporated the principle and practice of consultations and negotiations with community people and resolving issues that have arisen over the ownership or acquisition of land. Resolving conflicts require consultations, negotiations and respect for our people, especially the elders and local chiefs

I intend to prioritize consultation and negotiation in resolving conflicts, and the use of the “demolition power” on existing structures as a last resort. However, in order to ensure that we do not have situations where we are forced to demolish existing buildings, the Ministry will be empowering the Country Planning Directorate with the appropriate policy that would require land owners to acquire planning permit and building permit before commencing construction work on a piece of land.

I believe that Sierra Leoneans want to see their towns and cities competing with other towns and cities around the globe. We can do this if we are all ready to just do some amounts of sacrifices and demonstrate some level of love for our country. This requires discipline, decency and honesty. Let us all inculcate the habits of disciple, decency and honesty and make our villages, towns and cities the envy of sub-Sahara Africa.

After months of hard work and dedication with the team, we have been able to develop professional standard operating procedures to support transparency and unfettered access to services by the citizens and discourage endemic corruption.

The time to digitize the land sector and review policies and procedures militating against development is now and we can all achieve this together.

I thank you all.