Officials in Western Bahr El-Ghazal said Monday that local chiefs and members of the armed forces have been illegally acquiring land intended for public use, and building their personal residences on it.
The Ministry of Physical Infrastructure in Western Bahr El-Ghazal said local chiefs have illegally acquired land using deeds that the chiefs themselves issue. The ministry said the practice of land-grabbing is hampering efforts to to provide land to almost 5,000 applicants who want to settle on the land or farm it.
Romano Ucu, the director general of the ministry of physical infrastructure, told the meeting that land-grabbing has been a problem since last year. He said high-level local officials and army soldiers are among the perpetrators. Sometimes they acquire land and build a home in the most improbable of places, such as railroad tracks, he said.
But some of the local leaders who are implicated in the land-grabbing have said the problem is just a misunderstanding. Apinyi Samuel, the chairman of the Abunybuny Block E Land Committee in Wau, said the ministry of physical infrastructure created the problem by sending surveyors to demarcate land without first notifying the chiefs and local authorities.
"If a survey takes place without notifying the chief or chairperson of the community, misunderstandings will arise," he said. "You need to consult with us if you want the necessary information" about who owns what.
Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Urban Construction Zachariah Joseph Garang said officials intend to take action against any chief or member of the army who is involved in the illegal land appropriations.
“They are interfering with our work. We could not demarcate land in most areas from January till now. So, from today... any chief involved in these land issues will be arrested," Garang said.
South Sudan’s 2009 Land Act says that all land in the country belongs to the people, and its usage is regulated by the national government.
Officials at the meeting on Monday agreed to set up a committee to try to resolve the problem of land-grabbing.