The Committee for Joint Action (CJA) has called on the government to intervene to stop what it described as “the wanton acts of callousness of the spate of demolition of dwellings and the forcible eviction of residents by local authorities”.
It said those who ought to be punished were those officials who, knowing that encroachments were taking place, sat idly by until people had invested their hard-earned money in the dwellings.
A statement signed by convenor of the CJA, Mr Kwasi Adu, therefore, called on the government to take urgent measures to ensure that hundreds of children who had been affected by the mass evictions had access to education, as required under our Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Article 17).
It said it was not enough to send officials of the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) to give blankets to evicted people left to the mercy of the weather, stressing that the loud silence of the central government over the acts against the poor by state institutions and other individuals, was worrying.
“Our concern emanates from the fact that these demolitions and evictions are undertaken without any consideration of the rights of the evicted persons to be treated in a humane and respectable manner,” it said.
It observed that in the last few weeks alone, demolition of residential dwellings had taken place in Adjei Kojo (Tema), Takoradi, Adentan and more lately, Kumasi (by a private landowner).
It recalled how about four weeks ago an ex-magistrate was forcibly evicted from her accommodation “in the continuing saga of the grabbing of state lands” and how a private entity assisted by the police demolished market stalls without the knowledge and participation of the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) .
“Some of the affected occupants have resided on those lands for as long as 30 years. Although it is claimed that the evicted persons had no planning permission or did not have rights to those lands, these government institutions virtually acquiesced to the occupancies since they looked on while these lands were being encroached upon. In some cases, the authorities actually legitimised the occupation by collecting taxes for the use of those lands by the so-called encroachers,” it noted.
The statement said while the CJA supported policies for effective urban planning, it considered it wrong to allow people to occupy lands for many years only to demolish their properties under inhumane conditions, “sometimes involving the use of brute force leading to death and injury”.
It said Ghana already suffered from a huge deficit in the provision of accommodation, saying that apart from the regimes of Kwame Nkrumah and General Acheampong, no other government of Ghana had made any attempt to build accommodation or developed policies for the building of affordable, low-cost housing for the ordinary people of this country.
It said the few that were built by other governments were sold to the occupants who had also become landlords and ladies.
“The national institutions that are currently demolishing dwellings of ordinary people are oblivious to the feelings of marginalisation, alienation, social exclusion and sheer trauma that their victims suffer. It is appalling that when decisions are made by state institutions to demolish the dwellings of ordinary poor people, there is no attempt to secure alternative accommodation for them beforehand. They have no regard to the effects on the livelihoods, the health and the education of the children of the victims,” it noted.
The statement said it was usually the case in Ghana, that it was only when state officials identified rich individuals and developers to develop luxury houses for the rich that a decision was made to evict the poor occupants.
“What these state institutions and officials are doing, is effectively waging a class war against the poor, whose only desire is to secure shelter for themselves in the wake of the state’s refusal or reluctance to provide for them,” it said, stressing that, “it is despicable that instead of providing the urban poor with improved tenure and access to land, those poor people are treated in ways that are neither fair nor equitable.”
It stated that it was an undeniable fact that in urban areas, both the poor and affluent sections of the society had been guilty of building settlements in unapproved areas.
It cited the situation in Accra for instance, where many plush houses built in water courses had been allowed to stay in spite of the severe adverse environmental effects that they had on the city.
The statement said it was because of this that the CJA found “as unacceptable the rush by some metropolitan and local authorities to single out the poor and disperse them without finding suitable locations for them to resettle.”
“We also condemn the deployment of unnecessary state violence against citizens in the course of carrying out the demolitions.