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More political will needed for implementing the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve project

By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

Political will is needed in other to be able to implement the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve project but this remains a particular challenge for Sierra Leone. Though often invoked as a concept, political will refers to the desire and determination of political actors to introduce as well as embark on reforms that will bring significant and persistent changes in the society. It is difficult if not impossible to divorce political will from sustainable development. Sustainable development cannot survive on this concept. Even with all the necessary economic assistance, sustainable development will be a charade if political actors continue to operate on this paradigm of development. Environmentally, the Western area forests are essential to preserving biodiversity and combating climate change and it is for this reason the European Union and the Welthungerhilfe had contributed over three million Euros to protect the peninsular forest.

This house is constructed within the demarcation boundary…is the government prepared to demolish it to implement the project accordingly

All of us including government must ensure this project becomes successful. But what normally disappoints me is the manner in which government officials are handling the project and are allowing community people to construct their houses in and after the buffer zones of the newly demarcated green belt. I was opportune to travel with some officials from the ministry of lands carrying out pillaring and identification of buffer zones at the Sugar Loaf communities. Below is the report.

In this community, more than fifty houses are constructed within and after the demarcation boundary despite stringent warnings for people not to enter here. Most of the houses are marked x by lands officials but there is no political will to ensure that the people leave and desist from building their houses in this place. In my presence, I saw many carpenters and some community people constructing their houses with impunity and not even considering or thinking that they will be removed in this place. If really the government of Sierra Leone wants to ensure they help implement the western area peninsular forest reserve, they should prepare to relocate all persons who have constructed their houses here. The common believe of the people is that the land is belonging to the government and any government property is the property of all Sierra Leoneans devoid of getting it through the right means.

In this community, it is a mad rush to acquire land and most of them don’t go through the lands ministry to acquire such lands but some get approval from some ministry officials illegally and allowed to construct their houses. More than 250 meters of land from the demarcation land has been shifted due to human activities. The people don’t recognize the demarcation and will continue to whatever they wish to do without any pressure from the ministry of lands and the ministry of forestry.

A forest guard employed by the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve project, Umaru Samura spoke to standard times Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya on what they have been facing at the community. Mr. Samura said on regular instances, they nearly clashed with land encroachers at the site. They have taken one encroacher to the community headman, Mr. Bamin John to intervene. He also added that they have also arrested one land encroacher, Pa Santigie to the Regent Police post who was later released after the headman pleaded on his behalf. He also made it known that the land encroachment at the Sugar Loaf in Regent is something that has been going on for long time and that some of the people showed them documents when they approached them but they later advised them to go at the Ministry of lands and prove the authenticity of their land documents. But the people will never go there and the govern officials will never come to the community and asked them for documents but will wait until time is late.

Like in other communities, most of the community people in Sugar Loaf take chances to encroach on the forest and if they discover that there is no resistance from the government, they will continue to brush right in the forest and later come to compromise.

When speaking on the reduction of other activities in the forest, Mr. Samura said because of the presence of four forest guards in their cluster, the activities of coal mining in the forest has reduced drastically towards the forest all due to the high pressure they are resisting to the people.

Because of the concerns of the encroachment, the government of Sierra Leone showing less political will to control the situation and the determination of the project management to avoid community conflict and ensure implementation of the WAPFOR project, most of the areas encroached from the demarcation has been shifted and the first initial demarcation avoided for another location of about 250m. However, it is now left with the government of Sierra Leone to take any action on those lands that has been avoided whether to relocate the community people to another location or allow them to continue to stay and be a threat to the western area peninsular forest.

Considering the high premium given to politics in Sierra Leone, it is not clear whether the government will ever declare or authorize those houses to be demolished in the Sugar Loaf Community. The Minister of Lands country Planning and the Environment, Pat Sowe is quick to talk and command his boys to go and demolish locally made panbodi houses to be demolished when he sees prominent personalities but he is weak to ensure his commands are executed. Recently, he instructed for some illegal houses and structures to be demolished at the western area peninsular forest here in Sugar Loaf but until other time the houses and structures are still here untouched.

Some of the planners taking measurements of the demarcation pillars

Candidly speaking, if it was not for political differences, the former Minister of Lands, Dr. Denis Sandi was the most fitted Minister of Lands the country had ever get. Some of his performances can be traced when he shows no preference to land grabbers. Even the Parliamentarians can attest to this when he exposed some of their illegal land activities few months back. Some of his lands workers confirmed to this reporter at the Sugar Loaf that when they usually make recommendations to him on what should be done on land encroachment in the country, he is reported to be wasting no time but to take actions and heed to those recommendations made by forest guards and planners.

The project will do all it can here in the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve but if the government of Sierra Leone through the Ministry of Lands is not prepared to take the political will and avoid fearing for loosing  elections in the coming years, the project will never be implemented accordingly as needed by the EU and the WHH.

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