The misguided narratives of Minister Ebrima Sillah and Spokesperson Ebrima Sankareh on the land allocations

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By Madi Jobarteh

The allocation of state lands to citizens is guided by the State Lands Act which has set out the necessary criteria for eligibility. State agents such as ministers Musa Drammeh, Ebrima Sillah and the Government Spokesperson Ebrima Sankareh do not have the monopoly of knowledge and the loudest voice to impose on us their description and interpretation of reality. Surely conscious citizens will not buy their cheap arguments and infantile outbursts as we hear from Minster of Information Ebrima Sillah and Government Spokesperson Ebrima Sankareh on Coffee Time with Peter Gomez on West Coast Radio Tuesday edition.

Yes, the State Lands Act empowers the Minister to grant State lands to individuals for residential or other purposes. But the regulations provide a process to follow. The way and manner these recent allocations are done raises genuine doubts about whether the right processes were followed. If Drammeh, Sillah and Sankareh insist that the right process was followed, then let them share the full information so that citizens can see how the decision was arrived at. Transparency.

For example, Part 1 of the subsidiary legislation to the State Lands Act provides that the Department of Lands and Surveys receive applications, review, and advise the Minister accordingly to grant successful applications. There are eligibility criteria to be considered for land allocation as set out in Second Schedule Regulation 6. Among the set of criteria is that those individuals who already have at least one plot of land of their own do not qualify to be considered for allocation (Clause 5). Therefore, can the Minister Musa Drammeh inform the public that all the beneficiaries have not a single plot of land of their own?

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If they have, which is highly likely then what is the justification for allocating them a state land again? It is rather unfortunate that the defense put forward by Sillah and Sankareh was just to say the Minister acted within the law. But is it really lawful and legitimate? The allocation of state lands to individuals, especially public officials has never been transparent in this country. Yet we know it is common for State officials to get together to share public property among themselves and then throw dust into our face that the law was followed.

If they were truly guided by the law, then let them be transparent. It is rather interesting to have a document that is bearing only the names of Ministers, presidential advisors, and private individuals who are connected with the State as the beneficiaries of land allocations. Is this a coincidence or is it by design? Let there be transparency.

What is even more scandalous is for Sillah and Sankareh to defend the decision of Minister Drammeh on the basis that the fathers and mothers of critics also benefited from state lands allocation since the days of Jawara to Jammeh. If those allocations were wrong, then they are condemnable whether their children say it or not. However, the alleged wrongs of the past cannot be a justification for new wrongs today.

I know that my mother and father in Boraba are citizens of this country, yet they have never benefited from any land allocation from the State. Even if they had, I would condemn it if their acquisition were not guided by the law and conducted in a transparent manner. Thus, it is utterly scandalous and hypocritical for Sillah and Sankareh to claim that people who condemn the decision by Minister Musa Drammeh for the allocations did not speak about lands donated to their own parents and relatives previously. Let him name those individuals. Such a condescending comment is utterly unbecoming of a public official, especially a Minister towards citizens.

Therefore, if we should go by the argument by Ebrima Sillah that Ministers are Gambians like any other Gambian and deserve to get a plot of land from the state, then let the State give land to each and every other Gambian too. Otherwise, the state is engaged in discrimination and preferential treatment which is effectively turning the Gambia into Animal Farm where all citizens are equal, but some citizens are more equal than others.

In fact, Clause 5 of the eligibility criteria says if one has been in rented accommodation for over 5 years then that person should be given priority over others. Certainly, Ebrima Sillah and all of his fellow beneficiaries are not renting. Not only do all of them have their own compounds, but they also have the financial means to buy a fresh plot of land for themselves. If conscience should prevail, they should have kept away so that state lands can be allocated to thousands of poor Gambian workers who are renting for decades and do not have a single plot of land of their own.

On my part, having a compound of my own in Kembujeh, I shall never apply for a State land. Never. My conscience will not allow me. Therefore, I hereby call on all these ministers and those private citizens to return the plot of land allocated to them by Musa Drammeh because they already have their own plots of land. Even if they don’t, they can afford to buy one. There are far more less privileged Gambians who need land more than them.

If there is any advice to give to these ministers and their allies, it is that they should exercise humility, contentment, and honesty. Yes, Sillah is a citizen like any other citizen, but he is not the only one whose land was stolen or seized by Yahya Jammeh. The eligibility criteria set out in the regulations did not indicate that one can be compensated for lost land. Therefore, if Ebrima will allow conscience to guide and prevail on him, let him return the land. If indeed his claim that his land was stolen or seized by the previous regime, the advisable thing to do is to go to court to claim it back. This is what a civilised person with conscience and commitment to the rule of law and justice would do. A decent person should not seek and enjoy undeserved benefits and privileges by hiding behind the law and officialdom!