Good Governance in Land Administration in the Gambia- Shaping a discourse about Transparency and Accountability in Land Planning Practice.

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By Abdoukarim Sanneh, London, United Kingdom.

Land is primary asset for survival and development because it supports livelihood especially Agrarian economy like the Gambia. According to FAO 2018 figures, crop sector generates 40% foreign exchange earnings, employ 70% of labour force and accounts for 33% of GDP of the country and provide 75% of total household income. Land is not only the primary means of generating livelihood but also often a main vehicle to invest, accumulate wealth and transfer it between generations. The importance of land resources makes its management critical for agricultural and development in general. This includes the way in which access to land is regulated, how rights to it are defined and conflicts around landownership and use are resolved.

Land Administration in the Gambia especially in Kombo is at disarray. From the Tanene saga about the grabbing of burial cemetery is just a tip of the iceberg. In Sukuta currently a Kabilo is fighting for illegal and unlawful allocation of community land as layout. In the centre of this entire saga are corrupt officers at Ministry of lands, Department of Physical Planning. With years of inefficient government and corrupt bureaucracy, Land uses in Kombo and many part of the country, if not address will be tearing communities apart. Today the majority of land cases, which are pending in our slow court system, the claimants and defenders, are people of Kombo. The only people mostly profiting from this cases are lawyers and the unethical, unregulated and exploitative money laundering and tax evasion property estate market.

In the Gambia, with legal pluralism that originates in the variety of pre-colonial societies which were incorporated into the colonial states in relation to land and its social regulation there are well accepted rules, which govern how, land is allocated and used through inheritance, community membership, sales, lease etc. We have laws in place both formal and informal that for years contribute effectively to resolve land disputes and enhancing security over the possession and use of land laws. With unregulated booming housing estate market, pressure in conversion of agricultural and forest land for human settlement couple with large scale migration and to rapid urbanisation in Northern, Southern, Central and Eastern Kombo, migration, land conflict between host communities, inter-communities, (kilos), migrants’ settlers is threatening social cohesion in the area.

Gambia need good land governance because land rights or rights over land cannot be separated from civil, political and human rights. For 22 years after setting a quasi-judicial land commission, still land administration in many part of Greater Kombo is in disarray and still it seems the country is not ready both politically, administratively and professionally to ensure fair and equitable system of land governance. Land governance for the understanding of the readership is a process in which decisions regarding the access to and use of land, the manner in which this decision is implemented, and the way conflicting interests in land are reconcile. Today in the Gambia, control over land rights is a means of capital accumulation and dispensation of political and economic power and privilege through patronage, nepotism and corruption. Addressing these issues is critical to improve land governance. The role of the state in our vision for New Gambia should be to manage land in the public interest and therefore it is important state institutions responsible for land governance operate in a transparent, accountable and efficient manner.

Land regimes have an important impact on social relation and access to justice or legitimate ways of resolving conflicts over land rights issues. Land Laws in the precept on the foundation of legal pluralism and that is influenced by western judicial concepts, Islamic religious values and its jurisprudence and traditional practices and belief. The 1946 Land (Provinces Act) recognised Customary land tenure. It is stated in Land (Provinces Act) 1946 clearly in the preamble that it is “expedient that the existing customary rights of indigenous inhabitant of the Provinces to use and enjoy the lands of the Provinces and the natural fruits thereof such be preserved” and that “the existing customary law regarding the use and occupation of such land should be as far as possible preserved.” (Cap57:3) of the Act stated the occupation, and use of Province’s land by indigenes shall be governed and regulated by customary law obtaining in the localities in which such land situated.

Given that Customary Land tenure is recognised in our land laws both the 1991 Land Acts, the Physical Planning Act and the Land Acquisition Act are designed in such a way that increase the powers of government in the designation and rationale use of land in urban and rural spatial planning. The Land Acquisition also increase the power of government to acquire land for public purposes. It was this Act Which Minister of Lands and Local Government such as Laming Kaba Bayo and Momodou Nai Ceesay used forcefully expropriate the customary land of communities in Brufut village and given to Mustapha Njie and its TAF Construction. For many years, land governance in our country is open to corruption, patronage and nepotism. Land Acquisition and Compensation Act permits acquisition of customary land by the government for public purpose only and these include purposes which are exclusive government or community use, sanitary improvement of any kind, including reclamations, laying out of new government station or extension, land for port and airport development, land for defence purpose, land for environmental protection and conservation, land for road construction, rail or other public works.

Putting transparency and accountability in Land use planning means putting democratic decision-making remit such as public consultation and participation in planning decision making. Under the provision of the Land Acts 1990, the Minister of Local Government and Lands can take a unilateral decision to designate any land in a division/region layout. In recent years, we have seen designation many customary land in Kombo as State Lay Out some of which are given private estate owners for profit making ventures. There is no provision in Land Acts 1990, which give mechanism for public participation and consultation to comment the impact of such decision and its profound or implication to environment and the people in those communities. Gambia need to revisit its Land laws for the interest of transparency and accountability and put in place mechanism for public consultation, our land laws need to incorporate provisions, which give weight to public consultation during preparation land use schemes. We still continue to witness unprofessional behaviour of allocating open space of public land for private use such current protest in sand mining in Faraba without enough public consultation. Gambia is suffering from the problems of poor land governance especially in Land sector in Kombo. In embodying good governance values in our land administration, Gambia’s land laws and regulations should be well drafted in a participatory and transparent manner, responsive, consistent, and able to be enforced by the government and citizens.

Gambia is facing lot of challenges in land issues, and it is about time to develop a framework and policy guidelines, that address key issues such as legal pluralism, booming private housing estate development in Kombo, land and natural resource degradation, land conflict and land grabbing and new scramble for the exploitation of land and natural resources in urban and semi-urban Kombo, food security and environmental concern. The country need to learn from the experience of countries like Ghana that have untaken some form of land reforms through developing its land policies and laws and restructure its land administrative set-ups and procedures. It is only good governance in land administrative sector that will positively have impact on efficient, sustainable and equitable land resource management in our country.

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