Liberia: Govt, Fendall Demolition Victims to Settle for U.S.$8 Million?

opinion

Former residents of Fendall, whose properties were destroyed by the demolition exercise carried out by the Ministry of Public Works are to benefit an amount of US$8,000,000 should they agree with the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC)-led administration in an effort to settle them through an amicable agreement.

Over the weekend, the Technical Mediation Team (TMT) headed by the executive director of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), Festus Logan, presented its findings and recommendations to the victims, and has promised to submit same to President George Weah for the necessary redress.

It can be recalled that in February 2019, President Weah instructed the LRRRC and the Liberia Media Democratic Initiative (LMDI) to conduct a three-month long intervention aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the Fendall land dispute, and and subsequently a redress each to the concerns of the victims.

President Weah's instruction came about a month following a rare and unexpected apology to the victims.

The demolition was carried out on orders of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf so as to allow the University of Liberia (UL) claim ownership of the land for the expansion of its educational programs, but unfortunately for the university's administration, the deed presented into evidence bore 2018 as the time of purchase and ownership, whereas the victims had in their possession deeds that dated as far back as the early 1900s..

In a letter dated February 13, 2016 to Mr. Logan, the Minister of State, Nathaniel McGill instructed him to liaise with LMDI to carry out an independent investigation into the demolition, and come out with concrete findings and recommendations.

It is against this back drop that the LRRRC and the LMDI recently held a consultative meeting with over 200 of the affected individuals at a grade school near the Fendall Campus.

"The estimated cost of the damage done is US$16,610,783.96, but the Fendall Technical Mediation Committee would like to suggest that government pays half of the overall estimated cost of US$8,000,000 to meet the President's 'halfway policy' statement," Samuel Worzi, an executive of the LRRRC said in his presentation of the report to the victims.

Before the introduction of any negotiation by CDC-led government, the Fendall demolition victims sued the Liberian government at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court for a US$40,000,000 damage.

But as it went, President Weah sent a team of government lawyers to the ECOWAS Court in Nigeria with the mandate to appeal to the court in order for the case to return back home (Liberia) and be settled amicably.

There was a success as the legal team succeeded in working with the LMDI and the LRRRC on initiating a dialogue for the settlement of claims and counter claims.

The next recommendation from the mediation committee was that government carries out a traditional abolition and community cleansing through awareness, peace building, conflict resolution and community participation in the ten affected towns and villages, including the Fendall community.

As part of the report, the mediation team said it has observed that the affected residents of Fendall are prepared to be moderate in their legal claims of funds being requested for damage based on the good faith demonstrated by President Weah.

"The committee observed that of the 50,000 inhabitants said to have been affected by the demolition exercise, only 13,500 individuals were officially profiled," the TMC said.

A cross-section of the affected persons in the Fendall demolition carried out in 2016

They added that during their mediation and estimated number of 2,107 family heads representing 11,471 dependents or in total, 13,578 individuals were affected by the demolition exercise.

The team said tradition sites, graves, and other protected areas were destroyed.

"From all indications, a good number of the victims, including men, women and children are finding it difficult in their cognitive development because they are still living with relatives," the TMC report continued.

They noted further that that of the number of those affected by the demolition exercise, there were two real estate land owners while 480 are original land owners.

Others are 1,441 squatters, 22 land renters, 148 traditional land owners and 14 were underdeveloped land owners.

In reply to the TMC's recommendation that government pays US$8,000,000 rather than US$16,610,783.96 or the original US$40,000,000 for the extreme damages caused by the demolition, James J. Lablah, who is one of the affected residents, said the mediation committee should have left the amount at US$40,000,000 or at US$16,610,783.96.

"As one of the affected individuals, I think government should pay us either the US$40,000,000 or agreeably, US$16,610,783.96. We have sustained so much wounds. Our loss is even irreparable," Lablah said.

Meanwhile, the head of the committee representing the aggrieved Fendall residents, Mrs. Viola Lincoln, in support to LMDI's head, John Kollie and the LRRRC leadership, appealed to her fellow affected friends to accept the US$8,000,000 due to the challenging economic crisis confronting the country.

TMC is expected to submit its report to President Weah for final review and consideration any time soon.

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