Feature Article of Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Columnist: Twumasi, Patrick

Houses On Water Ways


Proverbs are like palm oil with which words are eaten with. So are quotes to the writer, every writer will express one or another. There is the saying that, “If you are born crying, you will live complaining and die disappointed”. True ethical journalistic practice seriously abhors plagiarism, hence, with this ethos at the fore, apologies to the unknown personality first to articulate the above quotation.

The recent hue and crying, crestfallen complaints evident through the coverage of the electronic media of wanton tearing down of mansions and ram shackles alike due to their positions on water ways, could send many to an early grave with a chagrin. Could you imagine if these houses are the last resort to a poor civil servant active or deactivated by the 60 year retiring age? I do not intend to allot blame to any of the parties involved – the demolition authorities and the property owners – except the Town and Country planning, and the Lands Commission. For the reason, the demolition personnel as well as the security officers who are to provide a safe environment for these exercises are considered an anathema. May be we will need to appeal to the Zulu world view, which says, ‘We are persons through other people’, because we are eating our way into hunger from the stand point of objective inference. Many of these property owners whimper and complain bitterly, for the reason, they see their destroyed abodes as a found and then lost shade tree which had provided comfort and relief to them. This leads to anger toward God and pity toward themselves.

The pulling down of houses within the national capital especially the Accra Metropolis beats a hasty retreat to any prospective house owner. Even though, most of the houses are situated on water ways which pose danger of flooding subject to destruction of life and property. Yet nerves as still as steel, many Ghanaians in the national capital keep on building on water ways with no visible intent to put a stop to this behaviour, thereby living a nightmare of when the bulldozers would come. But the question remains; who are selling these parcel of lands? Does it then empowers the desired house owner to haphazardly build on water ways? Better still, is it that the institutions mandated to supervise landed properties are pauperised and degraded? Imagine, gutters running with filth while the officials run with the money. The claim by the city authorities that these houses are wrongfully sited is worrying. Have the authorities sought for clarification from the Lands Commission and Town and Country Planning, the issuers of land title certificates and building permits respectively before arriving at pulling down these structures? Apparently, most of the houses if not all, either marked to be pulled down or has already been flattened have permits and the land on which they are sited are equally registered. Then does it not defeat the ends of justice? Suffice if the aforementioned documents were not forged. Wherefore as stated thereof send signals of an astonishing degree of dishonesty, lack of professional integrity and lack of independence on the part of these state institutions. Are we on the brink? The Lands Commission and the Town and Country Planning are at the forefront of the watchdogs of proper city planning. This article does not seek to give blanket exoneration to the sitting of these houses. For the reason some of these house owners are more corrupt than the most corrupt city planners or politicians.

It is an undeniable fact that, we are all educated, but we are all not Bankers, Lawyers, Teachers, Pilots or any other profession you may think of including currently yours. Per the tenets of division of labour , espoused by Adam Smith, would it be the duty or the responsibility of the Ghanaian prospective home owner to determine the position of the parcel of land to be on a water way or the Lands Commission, who issues documents covering such properties? Though, the home owners can not be exempted from blame, they cannot equally be criminalized. Between them and the Lands Commission, is the Town and Country Planning. Although among the authorities, you have idealistic, committed people of integrity who would just like a platform to shed light on this issue.

Amazingly some of the owners of these houses have cunning ways of out witting authorities on the issuance of permit. Many prospective house owners on starting their projects use red paint to inscribe, ‘Stop work, produce permit’. This is the notice, authorities usually inscribe on buildings as a form of warning to developers to obtain a permit or risk having their property pulled down. Pure evil genius indeed. This article wants to expose the lapses on the part of both the authorities, as well as the wrongs of property owners. Hence, the content of this piece wishes to emphasize that function, and it is clearly meant both as a warning to those supposed to enforce sanity in our cities and towns, and exhortation to property owners as well.

Yet let us consider this. Do city authorities mean water ways or waterlog areas? A known waterlog area is the Ofankor township in the Ga West Municipality in the Greater Accra Region. Do the authorities also investigate to ascertain, whether at the time of putting up the infrastructure the location was water way or later developments diverted the course of rivers and streams in to those places? Has the city authorities also questioned the Lands Commission and Town and Country Planning for issuing Land Title certificates and building permits to these structures on water ways? If the Lands Commission registered these lands after inspection then why did these experts not realize the lands are located on water ways, were not ideal for building? In other words, if the Lands Commission issued titles for these lands without acquainting itself with the location then, can any supervising authority query them? I might be presenting frustration and uncomfortable ideas, but let’s call our institutions to order. How or when can those who have lost their homes begin to claw their way back to safer grounds? Despite the above expression to impress on city authorities to find a way out on this impasse, let the Town and Country Planners try to stop such structures before they are completed and inhabited. Remember, Ghanaians are not insulated from ethnic and political sentiments. Before property owners dive into this pool of sentiments, let those in these positions of trust act in the best of social interest. The Lands Commission, Town and Country Planning and the City authorities such as the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, should play their fiduciary rights role effectively.

As has been noted, there is nothing like a bit of flash to get the authorities to sit up and take notice of serious issues like having one’s home been demolished.

Patrick Twumasi (0209045931)