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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Columnist: Kwasi Adu

NPP is back: Land grab for party members continues

It is that time of the season again. The NPP/NDC musical chairs have come full cycle. The NPP is back in the chair and the land-grab has begun, this time, in the name of God.

It has emerged from impeccable sources that the government has decided to take over all the publicly-owned lands, from the ridge circle to the edges of the State House, under the guise of building a non-denominational cathedral, to ultimately share those lands among themselves.

Readers may recall that, on 6 March 2017 when Nana Akufo Addo cut the sod for the commencement of the building of a national cathedral of interdenominational worship in Accra, he categorically stated that the Cathedral was going to be located on the current site of the Scholarship Secretariat near the State House.

That site alone is a one-acre state land, which he was bequeathing to a non-descript Cathedral. The idea itself was interesting, considering that all the major churches in Ghana have their own Cathedrals littered around the country, including Accra.

Things have moved on since then. The government is now claiming the whole of the lands between the Ridge Circle and the State House for the Cathedral.
This means that our “non-denominational Cathedral” will occupy not just the one acre of land housing the Scholarship Secretariat, but also the following:

1.One acre of land currently housing the Judicial Training Institute on Jomo Kenyatta Street , as well as the official residence of a Court of Appeal Judge on Modibo Keita Close,

2.Another acre of land currently housing two residences of another two Court of Appeal Judges,

3.Yet another acre of land where there are three, virtually new, residences of three Court of Appeal Judges (with another three under construction) and the Passport Office.

4.And finally, another one a half acres of land on which is situated, among other buildings, the African Centre for Economic Transformation.

In effect, we are going to have a Cathedral which will engulf seventeen large buildings in a prime location in Accra. It will span across six adjacent streets, (if one includes the Independence Avenue).

By a ball-park calculation, our Cathedral will occupy more than 22,000 square metres of land. This would be larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome which is only around 21,000 square metres and took about one-hundred and twenty years to complete. The imposing Westminster Cathedral in London is only about 5,000 square meters and it took fifteen years to complete it.

At the time of writing this piece, more than six Appeal court Judges have been ordered to vacate their residences to enable the commencement of the Cathedral.

The Judges are being moved to temporary accommodation, pending the construction of new buildings for them at the expense of the taxpayer.

This raises a number of serious issues:

Firstly, at the time of the sod-cutting ceremony, President Akufo Addo declared that apart from the bequeathing the site occupied by the Scholarship Secretariat, the government was not going to be involved in the funding of the Cathedral.

The government will have to explain whether the demolition of thirteen imposing residential facilities, in a prime location such as the Ridge, and the building of new ones, does not constitute cost.

Secondly, we have been made to believe that the judiciary is an independent arm of the state. If so, why are our Judges being treated by the executive as if they are mere vassals of the Executive, who are available to be tossed around to suit the whims and caprices of the Executive?

And in all this, the Chief Justice is sitting there to allow these to be done to the senior members of the bench?

I know that in 2012, under the rule of the NDC, a magistrate was evicted in broad daylight in the course of the NDC’s version of land grab while the then Chief Justice looked on.

Secondly, when President Akufo Addo claimed on 6 March 2017, that funding for the cathedral would be sourced from the Christian community, how much did he envisage was going to from the churches? It is a well-known fact that the Catholic Church in Accra has been trying with difficulty, to raise funds to repair the cracks in the structure of the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Accra.

How much does he think the Catholic Church can commit to the funding of a humongous Cathedral with no identifiable owner when it is finding it difficult to raise funds to rehabilitate its own cathedral?

The Anglicans have their Holy Trinity Cathedral in Accra, the Methodists have the Wesley Methodist Cathedral also in Accra. Why do we need to spend huge sums of money mowing down perfect edifices and building new ones elsewhere for judges in the quest to build a new Cathedral when we do not have ambulances and beds in our hospitals?

Thirdly, does the Cathedral need all that land? The answer, my friend, is “blowing in the wind”. Considering that this is most unlikely, we may, once again be going back to the days when the government, under President Kufuor, shared government lands in prime locations around Accra (at rock-bottom prices) among government functionaries, some senior judges (including the current Chief Justice) and leading party members.

Some of them paid as little as GH¢6,000 in places such as Airport Residential Area, Cantonments, Ridge, Kanda, Switchback Road and Ringway Estates.

Among the beneficiaries are people who are leading members of the current government. They include: Dr. Osafo Marfo, Prof. Frimpong Boateng, Mathew Opoku Prempeh, Atta Akyeah, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, to name just a few.

Some of the beneficiaries, immediately after purchasing these properties, quickly re-sold them to property developers at gargantuan profits.

Thirdly, what happened to the constitutional provision that if the purpose for which land was appropriated from the original owners was no longer applicable, then the land should revert back to the original owners? It appears that neither the NPP nor the NDC have any regard for this aspect of the 1992 Constitution.

Reliable reports have it that since the Christian churches are unlikely to obtain the funding from their own resources, the huge plots would be farmed out to a commercial property dealer who would put up the building and then charge exorbitant fees from any entity that may wish to use it.

This idea of a Cathedral can be nothing more than another put-up job to take over publicly-owned lands for the private profit of a few government functionaries and their friends, in much the same way as President Kufuor used the “in-filling” and so-called “Accra Redevelopment Policy” dole out prime state lands for party leaders and friends.

In November 2017, when the then Lands and Natural Resources Minister, Mr. John Peter Amewu, was beating his chest about the past government sharing lands to politicians like confetti, a friend of mine came up to me and whispered; “you watch it, they will tell him to shut up”. And so he did.

Nine months after the Minister promised the country that the committee he had set up to expose the beneficiaries were “almost finalizing their findings for presentation to the Ministry”, we have heard nothing. My friend has proved to be more of a prophet than most of the latter-day “prophets” in Ghana. A few months before he left the Ministry, he himself was seen leading a team to instruct the Chief Justice to evict Judges of the Court of Appeal to make way for a commercial Cathedral.

Some of us shouted to President Mills to stop his friends from taking over state lands in prime locations in East Cantonments, Ridge and Ringway Estates. He did nothing about it while magistrates were evicted and other public servants who refused to move were forcibly transferred from Accra.

When it became clear that the only person committed to stopping the land-loot was Mr. Mike Hammah, then Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, he was not re-appointed by President Mahama after the 2012 elections.

It is evil enough to chase out public servants and judges from public lands for the sake of private profit; but it is even more evil when this is done using the name of God.

This is a move that must be resisted. But as in previous cases, they are likely to fall on deaf ears. It is clear now, that between the NPP and the NDC, state-owned lands and bungalows would continue to be an endangered species in this country.

However, as Mrs. Esther Tsikata stated some time ago, “God is watching”. And as Frantz Fanon stated in his book ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, “if there is no room in your heart for consideration towards those who are beneath you, there will be no room for you in God’s house.'