The Right to Information Commission (RIC), has ordered the Lands Commission to release information on ‘returned’ State lands to pressure group, OccupyGhana.
The commission has also imposed an administrative fine of GH¢100,000 on the Lands Commission for earlier denying OccupyGhana the information.
OccupyGhana had questioned the move by the Lands Commission to declassify parts of the Achimota Forest as a reserve and give it out to the Owoo family, said to be the orginal owners of the land before it was classified as a forest reserve.
OccupyGhana dragged the Lands Commission to the Right to Information Commission after its application of seeking information on returned state lands was turned down.
Attached below is a statement from OccupyGhana on the development
OCCUPYGHANA v LANDS COMMISSION: RIGHT TO INFORMATION COMMISSION GRANT’S OCCUPYGHANA’S DEMAND AND FINES LANDS COMMISSION ₡100,000 FOR REFUSAL TO ACCEDE TO OCCUPYGHANA’S DEMAND
OccupyGhana is grateful that the Right to Information Commission (‘RIC’) has delivered a ruling dated 1 March 2023 (attached), ordering Lands Commission to release requested information on ‘returned’ State lands to OccupyGhana, and imposing an ‘administrative fine’ of ₡100,000 (with a 10% ‘additional default penalty’ for every additional period of 14 days of default) on the Lands Commission for its conduct. The specific release order is:
‘The Executive Secretary [of the Lands Commission] shall ensure that the following pieces of information are released to the Applicant [OccupyGhana] not later than 14 days after receipt of this decision:
a. A list of all public lands over which government’s ownership or control has been relinquished, and the names of the person to whom those lands have been released;
b. The respective sizes and locations (suburbs, towns/cities and regions) of all such lands;
c. The conditions of release, whether free, sale, lease or licence;
d. If the land has been leased, the amount of rent paid or payable; and
e. Any other amounts paid or received by government, if any, for each such transaction.’
Since news emerged about an attempt to ‘return’ Achimota Forest lands to alleged ‘original owners,’ OccupyGhana has expressed its strong rejection of that move, questioning its legality and constitutionality. And since 2 June 2022, OccupyGhana has demanded from the Lands Commission, information on all lands alleged to have been returned.
But the Lands Commission, which should be an impartial, fiducial and proactively accountable manager of State lands, adopted one bizarre subterfuge after another in simply refusing to provide the information. For a while, we tolerated the risible excuses, starting with the 7 June 2022 demand for the details of ‘any personality’ within our organisation, to the 21 June 2022 blame of its own ‘manual’ systems.
But when on 2 September, the Lands Commission finally claimed that it was waiting for the Attorney-General’s advice on whether the consent of the persons to whom the State lands had allegedly been transferred was required to provide the information, we were compelled to seek the RIC’s intervention.
As expected, the Lands Commission could not comply the RIC’s ‘Request for Response’ to our application, because they did not dare repeat those laughable excuses before that statutory body.
We are therefore glad that the RIC condemned the Lands Commission’s evasive and delay tactics, and found the Lands Commission guilty of ‘a gross disregard’ under the law and a posture that ‘bespeaks of inertia.’ The RIC also found that ‘being a public-interest pressure group, [OccupyGhana] is well within its mandate and interest to ensure that property belonging to the State is well preserved for the benefit of the country and that management of such State property is done in an accountable manner.’
The RIC added that ‘no person’s consent should be required for such information to be released to well-meaning Ghanaians. And, indeed, no such consent should be required as a condition precedent for exacting accountability from Government or a public institution like [the Lands Commission] in its management of State resources or assets.’
The RIC concluded that ‘such a posture by the [Lands Commission] works against the right of access to information enshrined under article 21(1)(f) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana and affirmed by Act 989 and same ought to be deprecated in the strongest terms. For this reason, an administrative fine of GH₡100,000 is imposed on the [Lands Commission] … The penalty so imposed shall attract an additional default penalty rate of 10%… in the event of default for any additional 14 days thereafter.’
We assure Ghanaians that we will get to the bottom of this matter. Already, the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources and the Lands Commission have, separately, admitted in writing to us that they do not have in place the constitutionally-mandated, presidentially-approved, binding Ministerial Policy Directions of a general nature, concerning this or any of the Land’s Commission’s functions. We are firm in our conviction that without that, the Lands Commission (as managers) cannot give out our lands to alleged ‘original owners.’ If, however it is the Government that has been directly giving out our lands since 1993, then the Government (with the President as trustee) will have to explain to Ghanaians (as beneficiaries) how the Government can flagrantly ignore the constitutionally-guaranteed and Supreme Court-upheld independence of the Lands Commission, to engage in such direct dissipation of State lands.
We therefore promise both the Lands Commission and the Government that they have not fully and finally heard from us yet. And, while we are grateful for this ruling, we regret that the ₡100,000 administrative fine and any default penalties will be paid out of public funds, and not by those whose direct actions and omissions have led to this state of affairs.