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LAB Director discuss land issues with Minister of Lands

May 31, 2016

Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles and Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning, Ms. Diana Konomanyi have discussed a proposal for a consultative meeting that will set the stage for a conference on issues around land ownership.

Ms. Carlton-Hanciles, who was meeting Ms. Konomanyi for the first time following her recent appointment to that ministry, explained that the consultative meeting would bring together the Office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Office of the Chief Justice, the Judiciary and relevant government departments and agencies that will determine the scope of a very big conference.

Speaking on the rationale for her initiative, Ms. Carlton-Hanciles noted that her organisation was overwhelmed with complaints bothering on land issues. “We have received over 500 complaints relating to land,” Ms. Carlton-Hanciles told the minister. “Also, the Police in the Western Area charge 50 cases involving land to court every week.” She added that cases involving land are at the top of National Crimes Statistics.

Ms. Carlton-Hanciles underlined the complexities around land issues, noting that charging such cases to court was a small part of the solution. She noted that there were lots of public order offences around land which the police charge to court. “For instance, they will charge to court for wounding, assault or use of weapons,” she said. “While the Court will handle the criminal aspect of the case, the issue of the ownership of the land will remain unresolved.”

She intimated the minister that the courts are clogged up with cases involving land. “This is not only affecting the courts but also your ministry as some of your surveyors have now become Court Surveyors and this should not be happening. It is so terrible in some of these cases while the two parties are in court over a piece of land, a third person will show up to lay claim to  the same piece of land.”

Ms. Carton-Hanciles emphasised the importance of collaboration in addressing these issues. She acknowledged the problems had exacerbated because the ministry had been neglected in the past. She was however optimistic that with the support provided under the leadership of the new minister things are bound to change for the better.

As part of a confidence building measure, Ms. Carlton-Hanciles urged Ms. Konomanyi to raise awareness on what her ministry is doing to address issues of maladministration and corruption. She asserted that educating people on what to look for when conducting land deals would go into lengths to curtail problems relating to ownership of land.

“If two parties fighting over a piece of land know that they can go to the ministry to have the matter resolved, that will be very helpful in reducing the number of cases taken to court,” she said.  “Also, lawyers will be able to advice their clients to first go to the ministry before taking the matter to court. The information will also be helpful to judges.”

She intimated the minister that some of the surveyors who have been invited to court to verify survey plans have been a disappointment. “Some of them have been part of the problem because they have been dishonest and what’s more they do take sides,” Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said and called on the minister to provide more training for her staff. In addition, she proffered registration of title-deeds as part of the solution to problems around land acquisition.

In response, Ms. Konomanyi briefed her guest on steps that have been taken to rebrand the ministry. She said since taking up office she had focused on the problems plaguing the ministry on the one hand and the relationship between the ministry and the public on the other.

“We need to clean up the image of the ministry and its staff,” she said. “I have met with the directors, the technical team and other senior members to delve into the problems plaguing the ministry because until you know the problems you will never be able to solve them.”

Ms. Konomanyi revealed that they have set themselves a 90-day deadline to determine what could be done to tackle the problems such as falsification of survey plans and National Revenue Authority (NRA) receipts and staff doing jobs they are not suppose to do.

“For instance, we had staff in the Country Planning Department doing the job of a surveyor and this is done unbeknown to those in the Department of Lands and Surveys,” Ms. Konomanyi said. “Some of these guys are very good at falsifying documents and faking the signatures of directors in the ministry.”

Ms. Konomanyi said as a first step in addressing the myriad of problems facing her ministry, she has opened up her office to the public. “Members of the public can come to me directly with their complaints and there are no protocols. Those who cannot reach on the phone to book an appointment would send me a text and I will get back to them,” she said.

Ms. Konomanyi disclosed they have vowed to clean up the ministry and assured that they are up to the task. She noted that should they become accomplices by hiding corrupt staff, the problems would not go away. “We are therefore going to clean our house. It is only then people will begin to listen to us,” she said.

She called on the public to make the ministry their first port of call when they are having disputes over land before going to the police or the courts. Where the cases are taken to the police, she called on the police to refer them to the ministry for advice and authentication. Also, she advised those having doubts over a piece of land to seek advice from the ministry before developing it.

She underlined the importance of bringing complaints to the ministry. “If issues of double plans for a piece of land are not brought to our attention, we will not know about them. If our staff are found to be culpable, we will weed them out and also hand them over to the police and the others will know that it is no longer no business as usual,” she said.

Ms. Konomanyi attributed the problems in her ministry to neglect of the Country Planning Department over the years, adding that she had decided to focus on the department. This means houses built in areas where they are not supposed to be built, for example on access routes, would be demolished. In the case of new settlements, the area would be planned before any building work.

Ms. Konomanyi explained the actions which have been taken to bring some sanity into the chaos gripping land issues. She stressed that the ministry has the professionals to authenticate any plan. She recalled a matter that was resolved recently between two people claiming to own a piece of land on Hill Station. “We scrutinised both documents and were able to determine which is genuine and which is fake,” she said. “There is no way a layman would have been able to detect the fake document.”

She also spoke about a demolition exercise that will be carried out on the Grafton-Waterloo highway in the coming days. She said those who have deliberately defied instructions from the President that no structures should be erected on that side of the road would have themselves to blame.

The meeting was climaxed with both women agreeing to work closely. This will see the ministry provide support to the referral desk at the Legal Aid Board. Also, Ms. Konomanyi agreed to a proposal from Ms. Carlton-Hanciles for her to meet with the Inspector-General of Police. She stressed that information regarding referring land cases to the ministry should be disseminated to the Police and the Inspector-General of Police is best placed to do that.

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