New Democrat (Monrovia)

19 November 2012

Liberia: Vexing Land Disputes Demand Systematic, Speedy Solutions

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Thousands of litigants over land disputes protractedly lingering, especially at lower courts and the Supreme Court, feel debilitating effects as some unfortunately die before their cases could finally be resolved, though under the titles of their heirs. However, some other litigants, feeling unsatisfied with rulings in cases involving land disputes, do await an administration they believe would be sympathetic to their cries, to resurrect their disputes, as was the Clara Town Land Case that United Methodist Bishop S. Trowen Nagbe won during twilight of the regime of President Tubman, also a Methodist.

Land issues also became so explosive when the government embarked on acquiring land in the mid 1980s at Fendall to relocate colleges for the natural sciences where legitimate and bogus land owners inflated acreage of land holdings and prices in anticipation of mouthwatering payments they thought the government would pay. But the government surprised them with caution by directing the General Auditing Bureau to vet all claims in what became the Fendall Land Case, before payments were made to legitimate owners; though that delayed the purchasing process which left some so-called land owners financially scarred.

One classic land case noteworthy of mention still not definitely resolved since the 1900s is the Vaitown land dispute between the heirs of two families with possible ethnic links, who in their disagreements, sometimes agree for the high court to authorize payments from tenants into a specified bank in escrow. But tempers at times flare prompting demands to revive the case for a new hearing, where older deeds surface to the astonishment of the other party. A myriad of similar cases concerning prime properties in central Monrovia and all the settlements in Montserrado County only constitute a tip of the iceberg in consideration of land disputes all over the country, as Dr. Othello Cecil Brandy, chair of the Land Commission of Liberia last week alarmed that nearly 95% of cases pending at the Supreme Court involve land disputes.

Legitimate and bogus land owners sell and resell the same parcel of land to multiple suspecting buyers who are left in fierce disputes beyond the capacity of the so-called land sellers to resolve, leaving the buyers to engage in tantalizing and fruitless costly lawsuits.

The commission stressed that adequate attention must be given land acquisition and disputes in order to stop the problem from becoming a recipe for chaos.

"If land dispute is not handled properly, it could take the country back to crisis. Land dispute threatens peace," Dr. Brandy emphasized at the regular weekly press briefing at the Information Ministry, without saying the duration of the stockpile of land dispute cases claimed to be pending at the Supreme Court.

We can only plea with the High Court to heed the alarm from the Land Commission and fast track hearings into these cases, which the commission views as threat to national peace. Remember the bloodshed that characterized a land dispute in Margibi County that nearly eroded the status of Senator Roland Kaine?

As the commission blamed the lack of land policy and no equal land rights for uncountable land disputes in in the country, we also urge the national legislature to fast back a land policy and equal land rights act, in consideration of the 1973 Public Land Sales Law, to serve as protection for both land owners and buyers. Interim regulations developed by the Land Commission for reforming the process of acquiring public land deeds could be among key points to consider by the lawmakers.

We support the commission's warning for a proper governance that would ensure that resources provided by concession companies intended for communities are not misappropriated so as to eschew adverse consequences.

Such adverse consequences have already brought great disenchantment to the people of Pleebo District (Maryland County) now having no sufficient land for farming to plant food crops because agriculture concessions now hold most of the area for oil palm and other plantations.

Meanwhile, as hints to the wise should be sufficient, the commission warned people to be "mindful of purchasing land around the highway leading to Roberts International Airport because of many land disputes in the area."

Cognizant about population explosion in Monrovia and its environs where shacks and other structures have mushroomed in alleys which government remains firmly determined to clear anytime in the name of development according to city zoning laws, the warning against encroaching on the RIA highway is nothing to gloss over, like defaulters habitually say: "Uhrr, the government not ready yet, man". Beware!

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