Press Conference On The Grabbing Of Government Lands And Assets In Prime Areas By Individuals
Ladies and Gentlemen of the media,
1. On behalf of the Committee for Joint Action (CJA), we wish to express gratitude to you for honouring our invitation.
2. On Tuesday 22nd May 2012, the Supreme Court, by a majority decision, declared that the decision of the government in 2008 to sell a state bungalow to an ex-Minister and ex-Chief of Staff of the then President was in order.
3. This followed an application by Hon. Okudzeto Ablakwa and Hon. Edward Omane Boamah to the court to declare the sale as improper. It is significant to note that the two applicants are members of the Committee for Joint Action (CJA). We salute and congratulate them for their bravery and sense of public duty and commitment that made them take on the might of the state. We invited you here today to give you our reaction to that decision and to comment on the issue of governments, being custodians of lands designated as state lands.
4. Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media, you are well aware that the CJA, since 2009, has been at the forefront in the struggle to reverse the sale of state lands in prime areas to individuals, especially since many of those sales had been undertaken without reference to the people on whose behalf those state lands are held. The state lands that we are talking about are those that were acquired from the original owners so that the government would use them for public purposes or in the public interest; and not for individuals.
5. In 2010, the CJA held a number of press conferences on this issue when we contended that since the business of government was not coming to an end anytime soon, there would be an ever-pressing need for lands to build schools, hospitals, accommodation for public and civil servants and other citizens, government offices and recreational facilities and to create protected zones such as forest reserves. We also held that, even if by any stretch of imagination, the state did not require those lands any longer, those lands should revert back to its original owners as provided for in Article 20 (5) and (6) of the 1992 Constitution. Regarding the specific allocations that had already been made by the government, the CJA called for the setting up of an independent Commission of Enquiry to conduct a public enquiry into the allocation of such state lands and government assets. We requested that the Commission should examine the legality of the allocations and all related matters.
6. We followed up with a petition to the Government on the matter. In 2011, we had another press conference on this issue in which we added that the practice was still on-going, this time, by high officials in the Lands Commission, especially in Greater Accra, who have arrogated unto themselves the powers to make policy decisions to sell off government bungalows to their friends. Such a policy issue, we argued, lies properly with the President in whom state lands have been vested by the 1992 Constitution.
7. Since then, we have taken a number of actions, including meetings with the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources and members/officials of the Lands Commission to stress home our demands. It is while this process was on-going that the Supreme Court came up with their decision.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media,
8. Before we comment on the judgement of the Supreme Court, we would first like to take on the issue of powerful politicians appropriating state lands to themselves and their friends.
9. Our position, which is supported by Article 257 of the 1992, is that all public lands in Ghana which are “vested in the President on behalf of, and in trust for, the people of Ghana” are not the personal properties of the President. The President only holds them on behalf of the people, and he or she cannot therefore dispose of them in ways which give the impression that those lands were his or her personal property. As for the other high politicians, it is an aberration and a negation of any sense of public morality that every four years, they should appeal, and sometimes even beg the people to vote for them, claiming to want to contribute to the development of the nation, when in reality, their real intentions are to get into power and loot state property. It is also our view that anybody, who is granted the honour by his or her people and entrusted with the custody of the communal property, has, in the management of the property, a social responsibility to serve the interests of the larger community instead of their private and individual ends. Having placed their faith and trust in the President to look after their property, the people have reason to feel betrayed when the custodian begins to make the property his individual property or hand it over to his friends, be they political or not.
10. There is also the issue of accountability and public trust. Having sold the properties without consideration of the supreme interest of the public, the government betrayed the public trust because following from the sale, the new private owners, are no longer accountable to the people on whose behalf the properties were held by the President.
11. Anybody would feel aggrieved if one day, they woke up and found out that the family head had sold the family treasure. It is in the light of this that we expect our governments who hold lands in trust of the people to administer them to the highest public advantage and not for private ends.
12. When the NPP was vying to come to power in 2000, they did not tell the country, either per their manifesto or in any form, that if they got into power, they would sell state lands to themselves. To have done that without recourse to the people, and even without advertising for persons in the wider public to express an interest was a total betrayal.
13. When Mr. Obetsebi Lamptey contested to become the Presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party, he surely expected to become President. Perhaps he also thought that it would have been within his right, as President, to purchase the Osu Castle and the Flagstaff House, use them as hotels and he would still be serving a public interest? To this, our six judges would have agreed with him. This is one of the reasons why we are appalled that the group of six judges, should now attempt to give a new definition of “public interest”. They claim that if Mr. Obetsebi Lamptey uses the land to build blocks of flats, and rents them at whatever price to any person, that would amount to “public interest” and serving a '”public purpose”. To those judges, it does not matter that now the new owner would no longer be accountable to the community either in the management of the property. In fact the new owner can decide to close down the building and the community can no longer have a say. It is astonishing that these are judges who wear grey wigs and would like the public to think that they are fair and just.
14. It is a pathetic state of affairs, that in this diabolical venture, people from all the three major estates of government (executive, legislature and judiciary) took part in this land grab. It is no wonder that some judges would find the appropriate English language by twisting their tongues only to arrive at the decision which favours them and their fellow members of the elite.
Ladies, and Gentlemen of the Media,
15. It is in view of the above that we feel that the decision of the six members of the Supreme Court last week to dismiss the arguments of our two members was an exercise in the protection only of the interests of the elite in our society.
16. It is not surprising that in their submission, the six judges gave the impression that the applicants did not present any evidence, even when the evidence was starring at them in the face. For example, Judge Brobbey argued that Hon Ablakwa and Hon. Omane Boamah did not produce any evidence to show that the way in which the then President, J.A. Kufuor was alleged to have sold No. 2 Saint Mungo Street, Ridge, Accra to Mr. Obetsebi Lamptey amounted to cronyism. The question is, was it at least advertised for the public to know that the property was up for sale? If there was no such advertisement, how did the group of six judges expect Hon. Ablakwa and Hon Omane Boamah to produce an advertisement that was not published? It was unreasonable, if the six judges expected the complainants to carry in articulator trucks, all the newspapers and audio from radio stations in the country between 2001 and 2008 to show that there was no advertisement about the intention to sell No. 2 St. Mungo Street. If something does not exist, you cannot produce it. Are the six judges oblivious of this fact? People should ask: how did Mr. Obetsebi Lamptey learn of the then President's intention to sell the property? Was it not because he was close to the Presidency; having been the then President's Chief of Staff and Minister on two separate occasions, as well as being the then President's Campaign Manager and later a presidential aspirant for the then ruling party? Was it a “thank you” for being ex- President J.A. Kufuor's campaign manager?
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media,
17. The sad case of our group of six judges is that they sought to dismiss documentary evidence of a Cabinet decision although one of the defendants, Mr. Obetsebi Lamptey, accepted the authenticity of the document in his submission to the court. Perhaps, our group of six judges wanted to be given the whole minutes of the Cabinet meeting, which, being a confidential document, they did not have the right to know all that transpired at the Cabinet meeting. It is astonishing that they could dismiss that evidence just because other matters, unrelated to land purchases had begun on a section of the page and had not been added to the exhibits?
18. This brings us to the issue of law and why laws exist in every civilised society. One of the five principles of the need for law is the “Morality Principle”. Law should promote public morality regarding what is wrong or what is right. If law is devoid of any public morality, then the law is useless and should be thrown into the dustbin. It is also wrong to treat civil cases, (which this particular one was) like criminal cases.
19. As a result of the bad example initiated by the J.A. Kufuor administration in the haphazard way in which they sold state lands to themselves, several members of the current members of the Lands Commission have taken a cue from it and are busy selling state lands to themselves and their friends some of which lands currently have colossal edifices built on them.
20. It is in view of this, that we welcome the announcement by the government last week, which directed that no political appointee should purchase state lands meant for public purposes. We wish to congratulate the government for this initial bold decision and we encourage them to go further to extend the decision to the relatives and friends of those political appointees and state officials.
21. The Lands Commission in Greater Accra has allocated to various people, including some members of the Lands Commission or their friends the following properties, which were hitherto not part of any so-called Accra Redevelopment scheme:
i. House No. 15 Ringway Crescent, Osu, Accra;
ii. House No. 17 Ringway Crescent, Osu, Accra;
iii. Unnumbered property on Fifth Link Road, Cantonments, (two houses) away from the NAFTI Hostel, on which a massive building complex is currently under construction;
iv. Unnumbered property next to House No. 6, 10th Avenue, Ridge, Accra on which a huge building complex is currently under construction;
v. Unnumbered property on 9th Road, Ridge, Accra (next to the College of Physicians and Surgeons' building) which is under demolition;
vi. Unnumbered property opposite the one mentioned in (v) above
vii. The lands near the Borstal Institute, Roman Ridge, Accra;
viii. Atomic Energy Commission lands
In some of these cases, sitting public servants have been ejected from some of these properties to enable the Lands Commission to undertake their nefarious activities without reference to the President, the Attorney General or the Minister responsible for Lands and Natural Resources in whose domain lies the power of policy-making. The current situation in which the Lands Commission have virtually formed themselves into an independent government and are selling state bungalows and other lands to themselves and their friends should not be allowed to continue any further.
In order to establish the full facts of the way in which sale of government lands have been conducted, we call on the government to establish an independent public enquiry into this sordid affair.
We would also like the proposed enquiry to establish the extent to which the following persons in the Lands Commission have benefited from the grabbing of state lands:
i. Nii Okoe Nikoi Dzanie – Chairman of the Greater Accra Lands Commission
ii. Nana Adjei-Ampofo – Chairman of the (National) Lands Commission
iii. Mrs. Rosamond Annan – Greater Accra Regional Lands Officer
iv. Mrs. Leticia Acquah – Chief Lands Officer in Charge of Acquisitions
v. Mr. Tetteh – Lands Commission Head of Central Records
vi. Mr. Poku-Boah – Lands Commission, Legal Officer
vii. Yaa Agyeman Boadi – Lands Commission, Legal Officer
viii. Paul Dzadey, Lands Commission Legal Officer (LRD)
22. We also call on the government to investigate how the following persons acquired and or developed lands belonging to the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission at Kwabenya, Accra:
i. Hon. Professor Mike Ocquaye (MP and 2nd Deputy Speaker of Parliament)
ii. Mike Ocquaye Jnr.
iii. Professor Mike Ocquaye's daughter
iv. Professor Mike Ocquaye's Wife (who is building a shopping mall on the lands)
v. Hon. Adjei Darko, Ex-Minister of Local Government ( building in the name of the daughter)
vi. Late Major Courage Quarshiga
vii. Mr. Asamoah Boateng (Ex-Minister of Information)
23. The CJA is committed to continuing the fight against the grabbing of state lands and we call on all well-meaning Ghanaians to join us in this campaign.
Thank you very much for attending.
29 May 2012