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24.03.2004 Regional News

Customary Land Secretariat inaugurated for Akyem Abuakwa

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Kyebi, March 24, GNA- The Minister of Lands and Forestry, Prof. Dominic Fobih, has on Tuesday, inaugurated the Akyem Abuakwa Customary Land Secretariat with a call on Okyeman, as one of the pioneers in a pilot project to set the standard for customary ownership and administration of land for the emulation by the rest of the country with similar land tenure systems.

The inauguration of the Secretariat is the third out of seven pilot areas earmarked for the first phase of the Land Administration Project being funded by a World Bank credit facility of 20.5 million dollars towards the reformation of the land administration system in the country.

The earlier Secretariats were those of the Wassa Amenfi traditional area in the Western Region and the Gbawe Kwatei Family in the Greater Accra Region.

Prof. Fobih explained that the selection of Akyem Abuakwa was based on the fact that the area was very rich in resources which had, therefore, attracted a lot of migrants who have been living in relative harmony with the indigenous people, noting that the sustenance of this harmony would enhance the revenue that could be generated from the use of the rich natural resources.

He also noted that the traditional area had its own unique and applicable customary land laws, which, in many ways, influenced its socio-cultural development, saying it was gratifying that Akyem Abuakwa had its own formalized land secretariat in its nascent form. The Minister announced that the long-term goal of government policy in the land sector is to stimulate economic development, ensure sustainable management, reduce poverty and promote social stability by improving the process of accessing land in a fair, transparent, accountable and efficient manner.

He said the government's commitment to the land reform programme was evident in the donation of office equipment to the secretariats, adding that the next stage of the support was the training of the local people to man the secretariats and to create a sense of ownership and effective linkage with the Public Land Agencies in anticipation of eventual decentralization of land administration to the district level. Prof. Fobih cautioned that if the traditional authorities failed to set good standards for other areas, the confidence in them for land administration would take a deep dive, resource flow would stall, support for other initiatives would be hard to come by and lack of confidence by investors would prevail.

He outlined some of the expectations from the creation of the secretariats as simplification of land allocation procedures, recording of land ownership rights, establishment of conflict resolution mechanism to ensure quick resolution of disputes, demarcation of boundaries between different divisions in the traditional area and care for the landless and tenants.

Prof. Fobih who commended the Okyeman for its leading role in the sustainable management of the environment and the Okyenhene's efforts in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, said he anticipated such zeal to be applied to the full development of the land secretariat.

The Eastern Regional Minister, Dr Francis Osafo-Mensah expressed concern that land administration by the local authorities, including landlords, was bedevilled with numerous litigation cases in the courts and traditional councils, noting that some of the issues included land encroachment, multiple land sales and haphazard development.

He said chiefs, as custodians, were obliged to use stool lands for the development of their areas, noting that, while some of them were proactive in managing their lands to the benefit of the subjects, other chiefs failed below expectation.

The Okyehene Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin recalled that on his ascension to the stool three years ago, one of his first activities was to institute the Okyeman Land Commission charged with evolving a comprehensive and effective land administration to revive a similar system which existed before the colonial administration came to replace it.

He recalled that it was under the former local land administration system that the Okyeman was able to provide the area with projects such as the Abuakwa State College, the Kyebi Government Hospital, roads and offer scholarships to many youths from the area including Dr J.B. Danquah to attain high educational status.

Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin noted that "people are dying in wars over land and families are broken because of land", adding, "without land, there will be no globalisation, no territorial integrity and as there is no land that did not belong to a family, a community or a tribe."

The Okyehene stated that government had no business involving itself in private land ownership administration and taxing traditional authorities for revenue generated from their land and expressed his delight about government's involvement in helping traditional authorities to manage their lands through the Secretariats being set up. He expressed regret that when the Okyeman Environment Brigade arrested 65 trucks loaded with illegally felled timber from their land, the vehicles were later released at Koforidua by the Forestry Services authorities with the explanation that there was no evidence to prosecute their owners, saying this outcome dampened the spirit of the Brigade in their protection of forest resources in the area.

The Okyehene assisted by Prof. Fobih, later cut the tape to inaugurate the Secretariat, which was equipped with a computer, printer, facsimile machine, a photocopier and an air conditioner. March 24, 04.

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