Pressure group OccupyGhana has weighed into government’s decision to reclassify the Achimota Forest Reserve.
In a letter to the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources , OccupyGhana said it may be too late in the day to revise the contractual agreement on the lease of portions of the Achimota Forest Reserve but “that should be all”.
“We strongly believe that Government should hold the rest of that land for other, relevant national purposes,” the group said on Wednesday, May 18.
It further called on government to desist from returning compulsorily acquired lands without recourse to the people in whose trust the lands were acquired.
“Government should then come back to the people of Ghana on whose behalf it holds the land, with a clear development plan that considers and includes the original forestry purpose, and other modern uses to which the land may be put.”
Find the full letter below:
Abu Jinapor, MP
The Honourable Minister
Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources
OCCUPYGHANA® DISAGREES WITH ANY FURTHER RELEASE OF ACHIMOTA LANDS
OccupyGhana® has closely followed the public discussions on the issue of re-classifying some parts of the lands acquired in the 1920s and classified as the Achimota Forest Reserve, and we have formed the view that apart from the portions leased back to the original owners in 2013, Government should hold the rest of the land, maintain some of it as a green belt, and use the rest in the broader national interest.
The history of Government's holding of compulsorily acquired lands is nothing to write home about. The overall management of these lands has been haphazard and messy, record-keeping has been largely (and sometimes, deliberately) derelict and shambolic, and the 2015 Report of the Sole Commissioner on Judgment Debts shows how Government has been defrauded into paying compensation on such lands when none was due. There is also evidence of how some of these lands, under the guise of being returned to the original owners, have ended up in the hands of Government and party officials. These factors combine to make Ghanaians extremely suspicious of any land transaction involving Government, and for good cause and reason.
We note that article 20 of the Constitution provides that the original owners of compulsorily acquired lands should be given the first option to acquire them, when those lands are no longer required for the original purpose. We are also aware that the Supreme Court has held that that provision does not apply to lands compulsorily acquired before the current Constitution came into force. Thus, article 20 does not apply to the Achimota lands, and Government is under no legal obligation to either return this or any such land, or allow the original owners to exercise a first option to purchase.
However, granted that Government has already agreed to release some of that land to the original owners by way of leases dated September 2013, and is therefore contractually bound, that should be all. We strongly believe that Government should hold the rest of that land for other, relevant national purposes.
We do not find it to be in the national interest to return any further lands to the original owners. Government cannot give the impression that it has no interest in holding and managing land in the wider national interest. That is a very wrong signal and gross dereliction of its duty to the generality of Ghanaians on whose behalf it holds such lands. We therefore urge Government to rethink this matter, and freeze the size of the lands to be returned at the size stated in the 99-year Lease Agreements executed in 2013 with the original owners, and nothing more.
Government should then come back to the people of Ghana on whose behalf it holds the land, with a clear development plan that considers and includes the original forestry purpose, and other modern uses to which the land may be put.
We also use this opportunity to urge Government to freeze all planned return of compulsorily acquired lands. Ghana cannot and should not be returning any compulsorily acquired lands or state lands, and there appears to be a serious disconnect in government policy that returns lands for nothing, at a time when the Health Minister has announced that the Agenda 111 Health Project is stalled because of land litigation problems.
Further, we urge Government, if it has not already done so, to conduct and publish an audit of all lands that it holds and come up with a clear national strategy on the use to which those lands are being or will be put, to serve our national developmental goals.
Yours in the service of God and Country,