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ISSUE

Good Governance in Land Administration is Critical for Land Conflict Resolutions

October 31, 2019

By Mohamed Konneh

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The Office of the Administrator and Registrar General (OARG) is a strategic state agency and partner to the business community and other stakeholders that is mandated to ensure an efficient and effective administration of and registration of entities such as business registration, land transactions, industrial property, marriages and administration of the estates of deceased persons as mandated by law.

The agency is also mostly important for the creation of an enabling environment for not only doing business but land arrangement that is creating so much confusion among the Sierra Leonean populace.

In 2011, the office of Administrator and Registrar-General , collected a total of Le 7, 635, 319, 632 (Seven Billion, Six Hundred and Thirty- five Million, Three Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Six Hundred and Thirty- two Leones being revenue returns from January to December, 2011 Source: Ministry of Finance). The office was able to raise this amount of money through fees paid for business registration, registration of business name, registration of conveyances, estate fees, registration of trademarks and marriages as prescribed in the 2007 Review Act.

In law, conveyancing is the transfer of legal title of real property from one person to another, or the granting of an encumbrance such as a mortgage or a lien (Webstar dictionary). A typical conveyancing transaction has two major phases: the exchange of contracts (when equitable interests are created) and completion (also called settlement, when legal title passes and equitable rights merge with the legal title).

Preparing a conveyance
The next step is to find out whether the land is encumbered: i.e whether it has any liabilities attached to it: for instance, the prospective buyer may wish to know whether the land is subject to a mortgage, in which case he might not wish to become entangled in the relationship between the mortgagor/vendor, and the mortgagee, that is the person to whom the property is mortgaged.  He may also wish to find out whether the prospective vendor is the only person beneficially entitled to the land. For if he is not, he cannot execute a valid conveyance in favour of the purchaser. The purchaser would normally request a copy of the vendor’s deed, and may himself conduct a search at the Administrator and Registrar-General’s office, or, he may instruct his lawyer to do so. The search involves painstakingly going through what are commonly called the “street book”, i.e. the index in which the transactions relating to any piece of property are recorded, or, the vendor books which record the transactions in alphabetical order. He would also need to search the Books of Leases and the Books of Mortgages, to assure himself that the property has no encumbrance such as a long lease, or a mortgage which is encumbered with a loan.

Once this process has been completed and the purchaser has assured himself that the vendor’s title is in order, the purchaser instructs a surveyor to survey the property to be bought, and to draw a survey plan thereafter.

As a journalist covering cases in court on land dispute this cumbersome process ends in the court always. There are cases that have gone for years without an end in sight. This affect families, business and by extension communities as well.

Surveyors sometimes easily plot a piece of land as being at New England in Freetown, when it should actually be in Congo Town. This is because Sierra Leone as a country do not have, a system of land registration. Only five percent of land in the country are registered and the rest is left on its own creating the many disputes over the years. This is the more reason why we have unending court cases the judiciary continue to grapple with.

The Legal instrument and the OARG

The 1960 Registration of Instruments Act provides for registration of conveyances of land interests. The registration is conducted by the Office of Administrator and Register General (OARG). The parties file a copy of the conveyance document and land survey. Registration does not provide the parties with security of tenure. The OARG does not maintain a cadastre, and boundaries, land location, and land rights are not recorded.

The OARG does not also verify the survey, land tenure, or existence of other registrations impacting the land; nothing prevents multiple, inconsistent filing relating to the same property (FIAS 2005).

Developments around land governance and land ownership in Sierra Leone still remains a challenge more especially the registration of conveyance for such lands either by individual or group of persons. This remains some of the biggest headache in land management that is creating sleepless nights for people who have either bought a piece of land or those wanting to secure one.

This area remains a flashpoint for delays in construction but more over conflict over land. Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown is engulf with problems of people having conveyances for the same land.

The Powers of the Minister of Lands

The minister has overwhelming powers in the administration of land but his powers only stop in the dispensing of state land, the management and protection. On the part of private land the minister has little or no role in the management or administration of such land making it a difficult task for people wanting to buy or secure land either for commercial purpose or private dwelling homes. It is that with new reforms and a new minister in the person of Dr. Denis Sandy will do all it takes to speedy reforms in the sector more especially the challenges associated in preparing conveyances for citizens that have bought land in the country. The new minister Dr. Dennis Sandy upon taking up office, vowed to reclaim all state lands and went ahead in cancelling all state lands approved by his predecessors.

Most people who have bought lands during the period under review, have been running to the Registrar General for the registration of conveyance but the unending delays remains some of difficulties faced in this direction.

Majority of people now affected by the action of the minister do not have a conveyance despite going through legitimate means including the Ministry of Lands to secure allotted plots of state land.

Many families have been disposed of their genuinely acquired lands for the simple fact they do not have a conveyance to back their claims to the land they have bought.

Collaboration

Both the ministry of Lands and the Office of Administrator and Registrar General needs to collaborate so as to speed up the preparation and registration of conveyance. The unnecessary delay in securing a conveyance leads to disputes on ownership and also court cases. Having a conveyance is important in land administration and management and the more reason why this collaboration is necessary. This is so for the simple fact that there is deceit in land deals, there is also corruption and the aspect of politics is also another challenge.

There are evidences of perceived land grabbers using fake powers of attorney, fake Land Survey Numbers that does not correspond with the actual location of the land, fake or back dated site plans and forged signatures of former directors of surveys at the Ministry of Lands. This is worrisome couple with delays in putting together documents at the ministry and at the Registrar General.

This attention of authorities concerned is key here for the simple reason that delays in the registration of conveyance should be part of reforms in the sector. This is so because over the years, there has been so many quarrels over land, leading to the many court cases the judiciary is overwhelm with.

Development projects and construction of homes have stalled as a result of undue delays in putting documents together for lands bought or acquired.