The Registrar of the Knutsford University College, Dr Nana Oppong, has filed a suit at the Supreme Court seeking a declaration to compel the government to take effective, immediate and continuing action to prevent foreigners from taking over the lands of the country.
The plaintiff also seeks to enjoin the government to ensure that most of the lands of Ghana remain permanently under the control and management of indigenous Ghanaians for posterity.
Another relief being sought by the plaintiff is an order compelling the government to pass the necessary legislation and create and fund the necessary institutions for them to fulfill their duties.
The suit, which was filed at the Supreme Court on April 9, 2013, is also seeking a declaration that the government has breached its duty to prevent “foreign takeover of lands of Ghana”.
Explaining the details of the suit at a press conference in Accra yesterday, Dr Oppong, who is also a land lawyer, said over the past five years a great number of lands had been transferred from Ghanaians to persons of foreign origin.
He said the lands involved in such transactions usually happened to be some of the best lands for agricultural or housing purposes, adding that the quantities of land typically transferred measured in the 10s, 100s and sometimes even 1,000s of hectares.
Dr Oppong said he had witnessed the sale of 10,000 acres (in one case) in the Brong Ahafo Region; 5,000 acres (another case) in the Central Region and 20,000 acres in the Volta Region.
He said currently foreigners on short-term visits and even tourists could, within a few days of their arrival, own any land in the country with a long-term lease.
“Thus, at this rate of land transfers to persons of foreign origin, it was only a matter of time before very large, if not most, portions of the country fall outside the control and management of indigenous of Ghanaians,” he said
Additionally, he said, with the logic of demand and supply, there was a real possibility that foreigners with money could possess and take over most of the lands in the country, since there was currently no limit to how foreigners could come into the country and buy lands.
Dr Oppong said at the moment the only check on the transfer of lands to persons of foreign origin was a limitation of 50 years at a time.
“Article 266 (4) of the Constitution states, ‘No interest in, or right over, any land in Ghana shall be created which vests in a person who is not a citizen of Ghana a leasehold for a term of more than 50 years at any one time’,” he added.
However, the 50-year limitation only applied to maximum term per lease and did not allow renewals of the same lease for another 50 years.
“It appears the Government of Ghana is not sufficiently prepared to deal with the challenges that such rapid and massive exposure to foreigners pose to Ghana’s national welfare,” he said.
Dr Oppong explained further that the probability that heirs of a lessor under a long-term lease would repossess the lands at the end of a lease would depend on many things, including the existence and accuracy of inter-generational memory or excellent record keeping about the transaction.
“Furthermore, while lawyers, the Constitution and other sophisticated persons may be able to distinguish between long-term lease and a sale, the majority of Ghanaians, especially the illiterate and people of rural persuasion, view the transfer of land by indenture to another for a lump sum as sale.
“If the arrangement for the transfer is not abunu or abusa, a short-term rental or similar things, our culture and ordinary expectations are that the signing of documents and giving lands to strangers for a lump sum is a sale.
“The point is that leaving the control and management of land transactions in Ghana to largely illiterate and poor individual Ghanaians to deal with sophisticated and rich foreign buyers is not a very good recipe for the protection of the independence, integrity, security and welfare of Ghana. This is the crux of the matter,” Dr Oppong said.