Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 April 2022:
In a primary step in direction of partaking parliament on whether or not proposed reforms to customary land laws in Sierra Leone will genuinely stimulate accountable funding within the nation, companies and personal sector stakeholders convened a roundtable dialogue in Freetown on 12 April 2022.
Nearly all of the land appropriate for large-scale industrial agriculture in Sierra Leone is within the districts and managed beneath customary legislation, which consists of communal possession by ancestral landholding households and particular person rights of occupation allotted by Paramount Chiefs and different conventional rulers.
Two draft Bills – the National Land Commission Act, 2021 and the Customary Land Rights Act, 2021 – that are at the moment in parliament, signify a significant shake-up of the system.
The roundtable dialogue was facilitated by Invest Salone – the UK government-funded non-public sector improvement initiative, and attended by Christopher Forster, the President of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture and Industry (SLCCIA) and members of the Commercial Agricultural Producers and Processors Association (CAPPA) together with Miro Forestry and Timber Products, Socfin, Sierra Tropical SL and Goldtree. Also in attendance have been Donald Smart – CEO of Mountain Lion Agriculture, Andrew Keili – Mining and Environmental Policy Analyst, Ammar Kamara – Country Director, Empower Africa and representatives from legislation agency – Macauley, Bangura and Co.
The first a part of the dialogue raised severe considerations about clauses within the draft Customary Land Rights Act, limiting lease agreements to an preliminary most of 5000 hectares, and for a interval not exceeding 21 years for non-citizens. Philip Tonks, General Manager, Socfin mentioned that the consequence of those clauses can be no extra funding in rubber, forestry, palm oil or different plantation crops in Sierra Leone: “Tree crops such as forestry, palm, rubber, citrus and other plantation crops enter their prime production after 20 years. This means that agribusinesses will be renegotiating their leases when their crops are in their prime. Socfin has been here for 11 years, and we are only now starting to get a return on our investment.”
Overlap with present laws was additionally a difficulty. Andrew Keili highlighted duplication between the draft payments and present businesses and insurance policies such because the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental safety laws, the Mines and Minerals Act and the Local Content Act, which might result in confusion. One instance is provision for grievance mechanisms that are already offered for in present laws. Keili additionally identified that communities could lack the technical capability to operationalise the roles and features devolved to them within the new Acts.
Participants additionally queried clause 38 of the draft Act, which states that authorities businesses could set minimal charges for leasing of land for particular functions and didn’t embrace provision for traders to take out unbiased valuations. Philip Tonks, Socfin requested: “How will a blanket rate be determined? Land value depends on location, resources and facilities – such as proximity to water, access to infrastructure and soil type.”
Other considerations raised included:
• Broad and ambiguous definitions which might sow confusion e.g., ‘sensitive’, ‘fair’, ‘ecologically sensitive’.
• The requirement for the written knowledgeable consent of each female and male grownup member of the household or neighborhood prior to buying household land, fairly than by an outlined majority.
• The requirement for hire to be paid into neighborhood or household financial institution accounts, the place some households could want various fee strategies.
• A grievance redress system with no provision for traders to put a grievance.
• No point out of the rights of land-users.
• Community entry to/use of leased land with no recourse for the investor if injury is brought on.
• No recognition of worldwide sustainability requirements.
• The requirement for an investor to have been supporting an out-grower scheme inside its space of operation to accumulate land exceeding 5000 hectares, when not all agricultural enterprise fashions use such schemes.
• The requirement to supply inner delicate and confidential enterprise info to communities, which isn’t worldwide normal observe.
• The requirement for traders to declare projected income to communities as a part of negotiations, which might result in unrealistic expectations, provided that projected income could not materialise.
Suggestions for the proposed National Land Commission included:
• Ensuring that the Commission is practical earlier than the Customary Land Rights Act is launched.
• An interim association to assist capability constructing within the proposed Land Commission.
• A spot on the board of administrators for personal sector illustration by enterprise membership organisations.
Lawyer Centus Macauley cautioned that the customary land tenure system is a nuanced and complicated space with no fast repair. “Parliament should be alert to the possibility of trying to legislate for too many eventualities and create confusion instead of clarity. We currently have a flawed but workable system. Investors prefer stability. We do not want this new bill to have the opposite of its intended effect.”
Following the discussions, the roundtable agreed to take their queries to parliament, with submissions from each SLCCIA and CAPPA.
Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie concluded the assembly by saying: “Invest Salone has facilitated discussions between civil society organisations and some private sector actors as well as this session dedicated to agricultural land investors in the private sector. Government of Sierra Leone officials have championed this process. We have also heard Paramount Chiefs’ concerns from news reports. While there are undoubted differences and concerns, they are dwarfed by the common ground upon which we all stand. We need to give the process the time for dialogue, with all parties sitting round the same table to understand each other’s’ perspectives, fears and legitimate misgivings.”