By Theresa Vamboi
It was like hell getting loose for residents or to say the least, former residents, of Levuma in the far West End of Freetown when the Minister of Lands, Dr. Dennis Sandy and team carried out the unimaginable for some, as structures that were built through sweat and toil were seen crumbling down to the ferocious and indiscriminate dismantling by overzealous havoc-wrecking youths, seemed to be high on drugs.
One of the affected parties at the scene, the Management of a proposed Bar and Restaurant at Levuma Beach along the Goderich Road is now calling on Government to give them justice and compensation, as they accused the Minister of Lands, Dr. Dennis Sandy and staff of vandalizing their property, beating them up, carting away 9,000 thousand Euros, Le5 million, a power saw and other valuables estimated at millions of Leones.
Mohamed Bangura, the Manager, Princess Sia Walters, the owner and a cancer nurse in Germany and her boyfriend, including Mr. Bernard Walters, stepfather of Princess Sia, all claimed that the incident happened on Monday 4th November this year when the Minister and staff visited the site with “thugs” and seven armed security personnels, asking them all sorts of questions and claimed that the Minister snatched the phone of Princess Walters, a Sierra Leonean German citizen who has returned home to contribute to national development.
They further claimed that the team from the Ministry of Lands also hit them with gun butts and chains, tortured Princess Sia Walters when she attempted to intervene, that the Minister himself threw away water that was in containers for the construction work, affirming that the team was very defiant, adding that after the fracas some of them had to be rushed to the Lumley Health Centre for treatment where they were admitted for two days.
Princess Sia Walters intimated that the Lumley Police Station refused to take her statement but only issued her a medical report form and called on the Minister to publicly apologize for the treatment meted out to them.
Mr. Bernard Walters said he first visited Sierra Leone 20 years ago and worked in Jiama, Kono District as a medical doctor when the civil war broke out and had to return home. He said he adopted Princess Sia and that the latest incident reminded him of the civil war, accusing the Minister of misusing his powers that has the tendency to ignite another war.
According to Mr. Bernard Walters, he has invested half a million Euros in the bar and restaurant project and informed that he has reported the matter to the German Embassy in Freetown.
The Management also alleged that they applied for the land to the Ministry of Tourism and that after paying all the charges and holding meetings with the relevant stakeholders, work commenced, only for the Ministry of Lands to stop them on the pretext that they have a $1 million project for the same area.
The Acting Director of the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning (MLHCP) Mr. Tamba Dauda revealed that the Ministry, including the Minister, Dr. Dennis Sandy, had for a long time ago stopped all construction work in the area and that when he visited the site a week ago, he also advised Princess Sia Walters to stop work, enlightening that the area in question is under the Ministry of Lands and confirmed that the community has apologized to the Minister for the incident that happened on Monday 4th November this year.
He furthered that since the Ministry has a plan for the area, it had put a moratorium on the construction of buildings in the area long ago, but lamented that the people are defiant and recalled that when he saw the people offloading building materials at the site he again cautioned them to discontinue construction work as they had marked X with red on the buildings been constructed in the area.
According to Mr. Tamba Dauda, most of the buildings being constructed in the area do not have building permits, that on the day of the incident, about 80% of the executive members in the community were present at the site to launch the construction project, the reason he took the opportunity to admonish them to discontinue all construction work and to seek permission from the Ministry, to which they consented only to renege later.
He said the people claimed that they have permission from the Ministries of Tourism and Works respectively and other institutions to construct the building reiterating that he told them that it is only the Ministry of Lands that has the mandate to authorize them to build on the land disclosing that when they arrived at the site all the workers fled with the exception of Princess Sia Walters and some few people who were defiant intimating that it was Princess Sia Walters who hit the Minister while another guy attempted to approach the Minister that warranted his security to intervene reiterating that the Minister did not touch anybody.
Mr. Tamba Dauda continued that they removed the pillars from the building and denied that they carted away money and other valuables from the site, adding that if work continues they would revisit the site again and demolish the structure.
The Acting Director furthered that even the Ministry of Tourism seeks permission from the Ministry to allocate land to investors in the tourism sector with conditions, citing Lumley Beach and other areas, declaring that they would demolish all unauthorized buildings in the area that is liable to flooding, concluding that it is the people in the community who complained to the Ministry that people are still constructing houses in the area in spite of the previous warnings.
In another new development, the embittered Minister of Lands, Dr Denis Sandy, has ordered the re-arrest of one Abdulai Bademba Barrie on the grounds that the latter must financially pay compensation to affected illegal squatters who were forcefully evicted on a piece of land according to the dictates of a Court Order.
The aforementioned piece of land was legally proven, in a court of law, to be the bona fide property of Abdulai Bademba Barrie though certain individuals, including some military personnel, decided to unlawfully settle there. The owner of the property resorted to legal recourse and the verdict was in his favour. However, few days after, the Minister ordered his arrest on the pretext that he should at first, inform the Lands Ministry before executing the Court Order. This, many have interpreted, as unprecedented.
This medium also understood that the Minister has also emboldened those who were evicted from Barrie’s land at Bathurst, Soja Town, to return and reclaim their pieces of land. In other words, the Minister has informed them to flout the very Court Order that evicted them to once more go and stay there.
Sounding the views of many, this medium learnt that many Sierra Leoneans are of the view that Dr. Dennis Sandy is one of the worst Lands Ministers that this country can boast of. Although some have stated that it is good for Government to reclaim State Lands and use them judiciously for development purposes, yet the fundamental human rights of persons must be upheld and respected.
“The Lands Minister is playing a discordant note which is akin to the New Direction consolidation of national cohesiveness,” a Political Commentator opined, adding that Dennis Sandy must be very cautious in the way and manner how he is executing his powers.