Sometime late last year, I read an article in the Local Press under the heading “NATIN PASS ADVANTAGE’ written by Paul Conton, dealing with the unfair and shabby way Property Owners along Wilkinson Road had been treated, and the downright unlawful way their properties had been compulsorily acquired for the Road Widening Project.Â Let me say that I agree completely with the views expressed in that article, and will deal with the legality aspect later in this my opinion. On the 12 January 2011, I was on my way to work when the banner headline in “PEEP” Magazine for that day, to wit, “No Consultant.Â No Master Plan......WHO IS IN CHARGE
AT WILKINSON ROAD....” caught my eye, and once again focused my mind on the Wilkinson Road, Widening Project, this time, on the ‘modus operandi” of the Contractors! Let me say again that I agree with the views expressed in that article as well, and have decided to express my own views on the matter for the record and for posterity.
There can be no doubt that the Wilkinson Road / Congo Cross Road Project has involved the compulsory acquisition of a lot of private properties, this being a heavily built-up and residential area. It has also been argued by some that the project is good because our country is being developed further, and that even if one’s property is affected one should not complain in the interest of the said “development.” Mr. Paul Conton in his article did not quite see it that way, and neither do I!!
As a Lawyer, my first instinct is to look at the legality of what has been done by the Government, SLRA and the Road Contractors, and to see how the rights of private citizens have been affected.
Section 21(1) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No. 6 of 1991, [which is the Supreme Law according to Section 171(15) of the said Constitution], provides as follows:-
“No property of any description shall be compulsorily taken possession of, and no interest in or right over property of any description shall be compulsorily acquired,Â except where the following condition areÂ satisfied, that is to say -
Â (c) provisions made by law applicable to that taking of possession or acquisition –
Â (1) for the prompt payment of adequate Compensation.”
So No Private Property shall be compulsorily acquired except there is provision in the law for the prompt payment of adequate compensation -That is what the Constitution says.
Section 31(2) of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority Act No.2 of 1992 provides as follows:-
(2)Â The Authority may acquire land for the purpose of this Act by private treaty or agreement or in any other LAWFUL MANNER.
(3)Â “Where the Authority is unable to acquire by Private Treaty or Agreement any land in the Western Area required for the purpose of thisÂ Act, the Minister may order proceedings to be taken for the compulsoryÂ acquisition of such land IN ACCORDANCE WITH PROVISIONS OF THE PUBLIC LANDS ACT (CAP . 116) and such acquisition shall be deemed to be for a public work within the hearing of that Act and any land so acquired shall be vested in the Authority by a Certificate issued under the hand of the Minister and describing the land, stating that it is so vested.”
But what does The Public Lands Act [Cap. 116] say?
“Whenever the Governor, with the advice and consent of The House of Representatives, shall by resolution declare that any land shall be acquired for any public work, it shall be Lawful for the Governor, by warrant under his hand and the public seal of the Colony, to direct that such land shall be acquired for the service of the Colony.”
Then follow the other provisions. Section 5- Service of Notice on Owners.
Section 6 - Power to enter and take land.
Section 7 - Land to be marked out.
Section 8 - Plan and Certificate to be registered.
Section 9Â Â - Registration to be conclusive.
Section 15 -
“The owners and occupiers of, and all other persons interestedÂ in any Land which may be appropriated , and taken or entered upon as aforesaid, SHALL BE ENTITLED TO, AND SHALL RECEIVE Compensation for the value of the land so taken and appropriated, and for all damages sustained by such owners, occupiers and other persons granted by reason of the exercise, as regards such land, of the powers granted by this Ordinance, the amount of such compensation to be ascertained and determined as hereinafter provided”
Section 16 - Agreement by Governor with owner or occupier for compensation to be allowed.
Section 17 - where quantum of Compensation disputed Application to be made to Chief Justice by Attorney-General or owner or occupier of land acquired to hear and determine all such cases Court shall assess amount of compensation to be paid by Governor to Owner of land.
Section 18 - Matters to be considered in determining Compensation.
(a) The Market value of the land at the dates of Publication of warrant under Section 4
(b)Â Any increase in the value of other land of the person interested likely to accrue from the use to which the land acquired will be put.
(c)Â Â The damage, if any, sustained by the person interest at the time of the taking of possession of land by reason of severing such land from his other land.
(d) The damage, if any, sustained by the person interested at the time of the taking and appropriation of the land by reason of the acquisition injuriously affecting his other property whether movable or immovable in any other manner or his actual earnings.
(e) If in consequence of the acquisition he is compelled to change his residence or place of business, the reasonable expenses, if any, incidental to such damage.
(f) The damage, if any, sustained by persons interested by reason of the imposition of any easement or exercise of any other rights of user on the basis of amount by which the value of the land shall have been diminished thereby and
(g)Â Where land is, and but for the compulsory acquisition would continue to be devoted to a purpose of such a nature that there is no general demand or market for land for that purpose, the compensation may, if the court is satisfied that reinstatement in some other place is bona fide intended, be assessed on the basis of the reasonable ……. of equivalent reinstatement.
Section 20 - Assessment by the Court shall be subject to Appeal.
From the foregoing, it is abundantly clear that and I submit as follows:
(1)Â Â Section 21(1) of the Constitution gives EVERY CITIZEN of Sierra Leone proper protection from being deprived of his/her property by compulsory acquisition by the State, except where certain safeguards are provided, including
“PROMPTS PAYMENT OF ADEQUATE COMPENSATION.”
(2)Â Â TheÂ Â SierraÂ Â LeoneÂ Â Roads Authority Act No.2 of 1992 provides for compulsoryÂ Â acquisitionÂ Â ofÂ Â privateÂ Â landÂ Â EITHERÂ Â BYÂ Â TREATYÂ Â OR AGREEMENT OR BY ANY OTHER LAWFUL MEANS.
The same Act further provides that where the Authority cannot acquire such private land by Treaty or Agreement, the provisions of Cap.116 set out above may be invoked, including the method by which compensation is calculated.
(3)Â Â From the evidence available so far, it would appear that neither the provisions of the Constitution, nor those of the SLRA Act, nor yet those of Cap.116 were observed, and/or followed, and/or complied with in the case of the property owners along Congo Cross and Wilkinson Road, before their properties were entered upon, taken away from them, and in some cases damage caused to them.
It follows therefore that the Constitutional rights of the said property owners along Congo Cross and Wilkinson Road, have been trampled upon by the Government itself notwithstanding the oath taken by all member of the Government upon assumption of office,
“.....to support, maintain, and uphold the Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone as by law Established....”
WHAT A SHAME!!!
Now the deed has been done, and work has started, regardless of the violation of the rights of the affected property owners. We have been repeatedly told by the Government’s propaganda machine that the road will be completed by the 27thÂ April 2011 – our 50thÂ Anniversary of Independence.
But looking at the situation on the ground this seems highly unlikely. It seems clear to me that this whole project was embarked upon rather hastily for whatever reason, without any proper planning, with very little co-ordination with the utility services, and with almost no supervision of the workers on the ground, the men who are obviously very good at breaking things down and demolishing people’s properties. One would have thought that bearing in mind the fact that this is a heavily built-up area with a very large number of private residences, but also with a significant number of shops and Businesses along the two (2) Roads, proper forward planning ought to have been done by the SLRA and the Contractors, not only to minimize the inconvenience and suffering which has now been visited on property owners,Â residents and businesses along the route, but also to minimize the damage to NPA Power Lines, Guma Water Pipes and Sierratel Cables, all of which have been totally messed up. People have found themselves unable to enter their compounds with their vehicles, and Business Premises have been rendered inaccessible because of the inconsiderate end unprofessional manner the road has been dug up in some instances creating huge steps or a gulf between the road and the entrance to the particular premises. Many business premises have lost a lot of customers because of the difficulty and sometime, the impossibility of reaching them from Wilkinson Road, or Congo Cross Road. Even Dr. Forde’s Clinic at Main Road:Â Congo Cross has not been spared. One can only wonder what is going to happen to his Patients and Staff. I was not surprised to hear Public Notices from both NPA and Guma assuring the public that they are doing their best to cope inspite of the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves. As things stand, the whole thing is just a BIG MESS, not to mention the terrible traffic hold-ups which we now have to endure, because no one sat down and did proper forward planning before commencing this work, and not to mention the constitutional rights of citizens which have been trampled underfoot with total impunity.
I sincerely hope that the Government together with SLRA and the Contractors will urgently find a way of ameliorating the situation before it descends into utter chaos. It is and has always been my opinion that Governments are voted into office to “GOVERN”Â and “GOVERNING” includes seeing that things work properly and effectively in the interest of the “GOVERNED” - i.e. all of us. It is also hoped that the issues of complying with the Constitution, The SLRA Act, and Cap. 116 - The Public Lands Act will be addressed urgently. It is most unbecoming to see the Government itself breaking the Law and violating The Constitution which it swore to support, uphold, and maintain upon assumption of office.
And Remember also, “Political Power is held but for a fleeting moment in the history of man, never to be abused, misused, or to trample upon the rights of others.” Indeed history and posterity are very harsh judges indeed!!!
J.B JENKINS- JOHNSTON