Government Launches 2 Taskforces to Investigate Encroachment in Reserved Lands 

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By Assan Bah

The Ministry of Lands, Regional Government and Religious Affairs on Wednesday, 4 July launched two taskforces to investigate encroachment into government desiignated reserve lands.

Two (2) taskforces were setup by the Ministry. One is to investigate the allocations in the Tanbi Wetlands in Jeshwang and Cape Point, while the other taskforce is required to investigate allocations in other reserved lands.

The members of committee to investigate the Tanbi Wetlands allocations are Bai Mass Taal, Mr Bolong Sonko, Pa Ousman Jarju, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Environment, Inspector General of Police, the Solicitor General and Director SIS.

The members of the taskforce to investigate land transactions in various government layouts are Mr Kebba Njie, Inspector General of Police, Solicitor General, Director General of SIS, Madam Jainaba Nyang, Mr Yankuba Sonko, Mr Madi Fafa Ceesay and Mr Kemo Sonko 

The taskforces are expected to submit their reports within six weeks, and maximum of two months include:

The Ministry said these areas are invaluable ecological assets to the country that support a diverse range of flora and fauna, play a crucial role in maintaining environmental health vital for orderly urban development and sustainable use of the country’s land resources.

Saffie Sankareh, the Permanent Secretary, at the Ministry of Lands said the two taskforces are tasked to investigate illegal encroachment within the Tanbi Wetlands of Cape Point and Jeshwang and encroachment within government designated layouts.

PS Sankareh said the formation of the taskforces is a proactive measure to address and resolve the pressing land issues in the country and their mandate is to thoroughly investigate illegal activities, and recommend appropriate actions to rectify the situation and prevent future occurrences. 

She said her Ministry is committed to implementing a comprehensive reform programme aimed at enhancing transparency, efficiency and sustainability in land management and governance. She added that the Ministry’s initiative is designed to address longstanding issues, streamline processes, and ensure equitable access to land for all Gambians.

She highlighted some of the Ministry’s key reform areas in its reform programme which include – modernising land administration; enhancing legal and regulatory frameworks; promoting sustainable land use; strengthening institutional capacity; increasing public participation. 

“We aim to create a robust framework that supports sustainable development, promotes social justice, and ensure a fair and equitable distribution of land resources for the benefit of all Gambians,” she said.

Madam Jainaba Nyang, a member of the taskforce on land transactions in designated government layouts, said the issue they will be looking at is a national concern. She assured Gambians of their readiness to ensure that things are put in the right way. 

“Over the years, we have seen a lot of conflicts related to land not only in the Greater Banjul Area, but beyond. Land is indeed important, but it has over the years become a source of conflict for so many communities,” she said.

Kebba Njie, the Chairperson of the Committee on Land transactions in Designated Government Layouts, who is a former Director of Lands at the Ministry of Lands expressed gratitude to the Ministry for bestowing confidence and responsibility on them to investigate land transactions in government’s layouts in the country.

He said there is a need to have a sound land policy to address the problems. He promised to live-up to expectation saying that the problems associated with land in the Gambia are numerous. 

“A proper implemented land policy is a pillar to achieving socio-economic growth and development. I humbly affirm this taskforce will do its utmost best to achieve the targeted goals,” he said.

Bai Mass Taal, the Chairman of the Committee on Land transactions on the Tanbi Wetlands of Cape Point and Jehswang congratulated the Ministry of Lands for establishing the taskforce consisting of environmentalists. 

“You cannot allocate land without looking into the environmental impacts,” he said.

“It is not going to be easy because some areas had already been developed, but the law is the law. We do not have any fear. We will follow the law,” he said.

He said they are hopeful that they will come up with recommendations that would enable the country solve what it needs to solve.

Hamat N.K. Bah, the Minister of Lands said: “We, as a government, have always said that we will never be tired in trying to put things right. Knowing that, there was huge work to be done at the Ministry when I was appointed as a Minister, I said the work cannot be done by one person there was a need to invite a team (s) of experts to help us get it done even though there was an existing team. 

He added: “We are the fifth most densely populated country in Africa among all of them with the exception of Mauritius almost all have gone to war because of land conflicts. Thank God we are safe for the time being, but according to surveys by the United Nations and the AU, the imminent crises in the Gambia will be on land crises.

“Therefore, we cannot sit down and watch things happening without addressing it. That is why we deemed it necessary to put on ways to address it because for over fifty years there is no land policy for the Gambia.”

The Minister further said with support from the World Bank and other international agencies, they are currently drafting a land policy, which is expected to be completed by April 2025.

 “You cannot run a ministry for close to 60 years without a land policy because it is the policy that would dictate the strategies – it is a strategy that you use to implement a policy. The level at which land crises are escalating in the country is alarming,” he said.

He warned public officials against taking ownership of people’s lands. 

“Holding office does not give you ownership of people’s lands whether you are minister, director, permanent secretary or whatever, you do not own the land, you are an officer employed to perform various functions, therefore that does not give you automatic ownership of people’s lands.

“We have gotten reports on the Salagi layout, which is yet be public but the reading process was terrible and these are deliberate things by people who do not fear the law. There are people in the country who do not fear or care about the law because after all they will walk free in the streets, we therefore, need to go back to the drawing board.”

He called on the committees to do their work without fear or favour. He said they were chosen because they are trusted 

“We want the facts. When they are out, we want Gambians to decide and we [government] would not hesitate to implement the recommendations to correct the wrongs and set the stage of the country in managing the lands of the country. We want to set the stage running. We are therefore, looking forward to these reports,” he said.