February 28, 2018 By Ibrahim Tarawallie
Eight out of the seventeen political parties contesting next Wednesday’s multitier elections have pledged their commitment to addressing issues relating to effective management of land and environment if they win the polls.
During a conference organised by NAMATI and other partners yesterday at Miatta Conference Centre, representatives of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), Coalition for Change (C4C), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Peace and Liberation Party (PLP), Unity Party (UP), Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP), National Democratic Alliance and National Unity and Reconciliation Party (NURP) agreed, among other things, that there were serious problems with the acquisition of land by mining and exploration companies, non-involvement of affected people and communities in the development of land lease agreements and low payment for land by companies.
The parties noted that issues of land and the environment have been age-old problems which must be addressed for the benefit of government, land owners and communities.
While accepting that people have been suffering for far too long in the hands of companies for their land, Publicity Secretary of the SLPP, Lahai Lawrence Leema, urged affected land owners to work with the government to ensure that they maximise benefit from their lands.
Leema assured that when his party wins the elections they would work with all and sundry to ensure that citizens benefit by reviewing current land lease agreements.
The affected land owners stated that mining and large scale agricultural activities across the country have displaced hundreds of families, destroyed farmland and poisoned waters.
They noted that they were outraged by loss of lives from regular environmental disasters caused mainly by failures in regulation.
They urged the incoming administration to empower people who are dependent on land by recognising customary land rights of farming and fishing communities and to only allow firms to engage in mining or agriculture, if the people, who have customary rights to the land – not merely the chiefs – give free, prior and informed consent.
Earlier, Executive Director of NAMATI, Sonkita Conteh said thousands of ordinary people have decided that the election will be a means of giving voice to the disappointment of their aspirations.
He said the affected people have signed up to a pledge that calls on political parties and their candidates to make land and the environment top priorities, which has been neglected over the years.