Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 February 2020:
Over a week ago, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), urged the country’s Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning – Dr. Dennis Sandy, to go on the air and respond to the huge and growing public outcry regarding what has been described as “his tribalistic, authoritarian and corrupt handling of land matters in the country”.
Mr Ahmed Sahid Nasralla – President of SLAJ, also challenged Minister Sandy to tell the people of Sierra Leone why he decided to unilaterally – without consulting the Rural Area Council – to name a community in the Grafton district of Freetown as “Pa-O-Pa Town”, which many in Sierra Leone now say belongs to supporters of the ruling SLPP party.
Speaking to the SLAJ executives who visited his office in Freetown, Minister Sandy said that the Ministry of Lands is plagued with all kinds of criminal activities, and that in order to eradicate the culture of corruption in the Ministry, he is employing aggressive measures.
“Everybody wants land. It’s a whole industry. It’s challenging, it’s chaotic and dirty. The land space in the Western Area has been squeezed over time. Our approach has been aggressive. Sometimes we have to behave abnormally for the benefit of the country and its citizens,” Dr. Sandy told SLAJ, adding that under his leadership there’s not going to be business as usual.
But such admission of corruption in the ministry of Lands will surely be seen as a serious indictment and failing of his leadership after serving two successive governments as Minister of Lands.
Regarding his recent naming of a community at Grafton as “Pa-O-Pa Town” – “Pa-O-Pa” being the ideological slogan of the ruling SLPP party, Dr. Sandy said he has the authority to do so under many laws including the Freetown Improvement Act (Cap 66 of 1966).
(Photo: Minister Sandy posing in front of his new Pa-O-Pa singboard).
Defending his decision, he said it was the same powers that former SLPP Minister of Lands, Bobson Sesay, used in renaming the settlement around the US Embassy in Freetown – Hill Station, as Plums Heath, IMATT and SS Camp; and other areas such as Angola Town and Gbangbayilla.
He said that the community that he has renamed as “Pa-O-Pa” Town in Grafton was previously referred to as APC Corner by those living in that community.
This is what he told SLAJ: “We went there and found out they were on state lands which were not properly acquired. So we reclaimed it and re-allocated the lands in a structured and orderly manner, and we are monitoring every construction on that land and every other settlement that we have identified, reclaimed and re-allocated for that matter. We called the key settlers to a meeting here at my office and we all agreed to rename the area Pa-O-Pa Town.
“It seems as if it is the name some people are unhappy about. When it was called APC Corner nobody raised concern. Pa-O-Pa is not SLPP. Pa-O-Pa means for the good of the country.”
The Lands Minister told SLAJ that whatever action he is taking, is supported by evidence and statutory authority of the Ministry. He said that some families are claiming historically ownership to 80 to 100 acres of land without proper documentation; there are some people with documents but no land; and non-citizens acquiring huge portions of land to the disadvantage of citizens.
He told SLAJ he will take to the airwaves and explain why he is taking the actions that he is being accused of as authoritarian and illegal.
Taking to the airwaves he did. Last Tuesday Minister Sandy was on Radio Democracy 98.1 FM’s popular ‘Good Morning Salone’ program.
Reactions to Minister Sandy’s radio rambling have been swift and damning, as citizens call for president Bio to sack him.
This is what C. C. V. Taylor – an experienced lawyer in Sierra Leone said:
“I wasn’t going to miss the Good Morning show on Radio Democracy FM 98.1 today. Dr. Sandy took to the airwaves on the land issues in Sierra Leone. I am so glad he did. His interview today reinforces my opinion about him and by extension the Government that allows him to continue to serve as a Minister.
“Dr Sandy alluded to the fact that the lawyers would be impressed by his delivery on radio. He is very mistaken, I am not.
“Dr Sandy “name drops” a lot. From a lawyers’ perspective, he would make a delightful witness for cross-examination. He mentioned families who owned lands in Kenema and other areas from whom he had reclaimed lands etc…I wonder why he didn’t continue the pattern of naming well-known Krio families in the Western Area from whom Dr Sandy had illegally reclaimed land.
“Dr Sandy showcased himself in very poor light……and that’s not my opinion alone. The text messages to the programme tells a story. One text message asked him to be serious; another described him as arrogant. Dr Sandy is thick-skinned – the assurance of a man confident of his standing or cavalier or bonkers.
“One of my favourite wise words is that ‘a man can be hung for what he says and not what he thinks’.
“Frankly, I don’t think Dr Sandy did the Chief Justice and the ACC Commissioner any justice too referencing their names as the company he keeps.
“I know of a few complaints touching on Dr Sandy s conduct before the ACC. The wise words that “a man is judged by the company he avoids” have both wisdom and legal precepts infused in the mix.
I strongly believe that politicians and judicial personnel shouldn’t t mix in respect of matters relating to the administration of law and justice.
“Dr Sandy was his self, very much in his element – laughing and chuckling when serious questions were asked for his clarification. He was evasive on matters of grave concern especially over the issue of his assumption of responsibility to rename areas within the city.
“When quizzed about the State’s acquisition of land in possession of private citizens, Dr Sandy narrated in mongrel form the procedure provided by law. I don’t know how Sandy legally got to make fresh conveyances to the State without a Court Order or the occupiers ceding possession to the State. I have been a lawyer in real estate for almost 20 years, and like Dr Sandy I am also very methodical and don’t fail exams.
“Dr Sandy fell short of telling the listening audience whether or not the State had resolved the conflicts that exist between the State and many Krio families over land in the Western Area through judicial means or through the courts or at all.
“A sobering moment was when Dr Sandy was reminded about the Grammar School incident. That incident saw the school reclaiming its lands from persons through the judicial process in Courts after decades of legal battle………A word to those who allegedly thank Dr Sandy profusely for allocating to them lands “reclaimed” by the State.
“Dr Sandy was pensive for a bit when mention was made of the Grammar School incident, then relapsed into the sense of security that this Government will win successive terms .
“Though Dr Sandy seems to have admitted in a wayward but Don Quixote manner to the Court’s jurisdiction to adjudicate over the cases of dispute between private citizens and the State, he was quick to reassert jurisdiction over State Land in a godlike posturing; submitting that should a defaulter of the conditions of a State lease beg his forgiveness, he Dr Sandy would have mercy on him.
“Dr Sandy fumbled over questions relating to the use of military personnel in matters of a civil nature, referencing for a precedent what obtains in other jurisdictions like Kenya. Yes, he admitted to his use of military policemen when he goes out to reclaim ‘state land’.
“My goodness!! Dr Sandy’s confession of an abuse of his office to a national audience could not have escaped the attention of Francis Ben Kaifala (ACC Commissioner).
“Dr Sandy did not tell us about what the State intends to do about the land tenure system in Sierra Leone, especially in respect of a minority group that feels disenfranchised to equal access to land in the provinces.
“He defined the term ‘Pa-O-Pa’. I didn’t know whether that meant Pa-O-Pa – me sef go get equal access to land in the provinces.”
Also responding to Minister Sandy’s radio broadcast, the former president of Sierra Leone’s Bar Association and an experienced lawyer – Ms. Basita Michael said:
“The Message from the blessed Dr. Sandy is clear: The rule of Law, access to justice and good governance are risk factors to his own arrogance and ignorance, dangerously insinuating that his arbitrary approach is validated by the Judiciary, the ACC and the Office of the AG, while he indirectly insulted the Vice President and openly defied him.
“Minister Sandy left unchecked, will create the lasting impression that he can violate the rule of law and abuse his office with impunity, and not just any impunity but impunity sanctioned by those who took an oath to uphold the rule of law.
“If only our President can now see that it is time to take prompt action to replace Minister Sandy, the New Direction will probably be saved from some amount of ridicule.”
Yesterday, an open letter was written to president Julius Maada Bio by Femi Claudius-Cole – an advocate and a victim of Minister Sandy’s actions. This is what she said:
“Sir, do you remember welcoming a team of concerned citizen at the State House, we were appreciative of your prompt response to our cry. At that meeting I was given the honour of speaking, Sir I said in no uncertain terms that I was making a complaint (Pote) against your Lands Minister Dr. Sandy.
“I wish to once again bring to your attention sir, you have a Minister that has gone totally ‘rogue’. I ask Sir, is Dr. Dennis Sandy above the Law, or is he your sacred Minister, and untouchable, a law unto himself – the judge, the jury and the executioner of land matters?
“May I be so bold as to remind you that you promised the people transparency, the rule of law, discipline and a fight against corruption. Please Sir, summon the ACC boss so he can peruse with you the numerous complaints that have been filed against Dr Sandy.
“An impromptu visit by you to his office will give you a glimpse of the problem. Dr. Sandy’s office is most likely the busiest and most disorganized ministerial office in the government of Sierra Leone. He sits “Court” like a Paramount Chief in his office, disrespecting elderly citizens, chastising them so loudly that those in the waiting room can clearly hear his verbal tirade.
“Dr. Dennis Sandy appears to be so far above the law that despite the mountain of complaints on the desk of the ACC Commission and the courts, he continues to wield and abuse his assumed power with a level of impunity that makes one believe he has your blessing.
“Mr. President, this is not a Krio problem, it is a Sierra Leonean problem that can no longer be ignored. It needs your immediate attention Sir. It is imperative you familiarize yourself with the details of some of these complaints, so you can appreciate the level of his mishandling and miscarriage of land ownership issues.
“During our visit with you, you handed over the investigation of this complaint to your Vice President – Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh. But it has become increasingly clear that this Minister’s power is such that without your directives there will be no solutions. It is time Sir for you to personally assess and arrest this ugly situation.
“You must rein Dr. Dennis Sandy ‘in’. He cannot, he should not be allowed to continue this reign of terror. Adjudicating disputes is the role of the judiciary.
“I thank you in anticipation of your prompt decisive action.”
President Bio is poised to make another cabinet reshuffle in the next few months. The question that many in Sierra Leone are asking is: Will president Bio remove Dr Dennis Sandy from the lands ministry, to make way for investigations by the Anti-Corruption Commission into the plethora of cases that are currently on the desk of the Anti-Corruption Commissioner against Dr Sandy?