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New State Lands Bill Targets Land Grabbing

Jun 20, 2008, 2:32 AM | Article By: By Baboucarr Senghore & Abba Gibba

The numerous and seemingly unending land disputes which have been making news in recent times in the country will soon be a thing of the past if the new State Lands Amendment Bill passed by the National Assembly on Wednesday is anything to go by.

The bill, which among other things seeks to review the existing land legislation so as to ensure a more efficient and judicious land administration mechanism, comes on the heels of numerous land dispute cases in recent times. Some, notably the Babylon case, have been the subject of intense proceedings in the courts.

Being one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, The Gambia has and continues to register a high alien population, consequently making land more and more scarce and therefore difficult to be acquired by the average Gambian.

With the demand for housing significantly on the increase in the Greater Banjul Area and its immediate surrounding areas, the new Act, together with the need to better manage land resources, is expected to put forward lasting solutions to land grabbing and speculation.

Putting the motion before Members of the National Assembly, Hon. Ismaila Sambou, the Secretary of State for Local Government, Lands and Religious Affairs, said that without stringent controls, significant chunks of land would end up in foreign ownership.

"It is for this reason that the Department of State for Local Government, Lands and Religious Affairs deems it necessary to review the existing land legislation so as to ensure a more efficient and more judicious land administration mechanism," he said.

He noted that these amendments seek to provide checks and balances to reduce the incidence of speculation, leading to the non-development of certain allocated lands. "A major problem in this regard are the numerous cases where those allotted legally and justifiably re-entered plots take government to court, thereby depriving applicants the opportunity to be allocated," he said.

The proposed amendments, according to Secy. Sambou, will therefore make it virtually impossible for government to be unnecessarily dragged to court on issues of re-entry and reallocation.

Seconding the motion, Hon. Adama Cham, member for Kombo North constituency, described the bill as a straightforward piece of legislation which seeks to protect already existing land, lands which if not grabbed, could have been used effectively for agricultural and other development purposes.

"More so, looking at the scenario and what actually happens especially in Kombo North, South and Central, and now even creeping into the provinces, we don't want to have a situation where you have settler regimes," he said.

In Hon. Cham's view, the bill does not seek to victimise anybody or stop anybody from coming to The Gambia but just to protect lands and landowners.