What to do in the event of a land dispute?
Criminal land disposal, in the form of double transactions and fraudulent land titles, continues unabated across Liberia, particularly in Marshall City, Margibi County, with no end in sight.
And given that it is unclear how far some parties – legitimate or illegitimate – are willing to go to obtain assets to which they believe they are entitled, the issue of land disputes could be a pandemic that requires serious attention. Stemming land conflicts is indeed a task that the Liberian government must not underestimate if it wants to ensure lasting peace and genuine national reconciliation among its citizens.
This report focuses on cases in Margibi County, particularly Marshal City and surrounding areas, where much disappointment has been expressed by people who have come forward as victims of illegal land deals. In November 2019, the Daily Observer reported an article with the headline “Liberia: Double Dealings? Margibi Land Administrator Accused of Illegal Land Sales”, a report in which there was a plethora of allegations that Margibi Land Administrator Joe Dorah was involved in the criminal transfer of land.
In this November 2019 report, it was noted that documented complaints from a few of the victims, as well as the offices of Margibi County Superintendent Jerry Varney and District #1 Representative Tibelrosa S. Tarponweh, revealed that County Land Administrator Joe Dorah had collected tens of thousands of US dollars in payment for plots of land from unsuspecting land buyers, with none returned to those whose money he allegedly took , accusations that Dorah has denied.
Helena Nah, according to last year’s report, claimed she gave Dorah $9,800 for two plots of land in Marshall City. That money, Ms. Nah said, was paid to Dorah in three installments, but the land commissioner has yet to deliver on his end of the bargain.
Johnetta Wiggens also alleged that she gave Dorah a red Ford Ranger van in exchange for a plot of land in the Foday Town area along the RIA highway, but did not get the property .
Neree K. Bartee, displaying a copy of the deed to a plot of land in Kpakpacon, along Marshall Road, complained that relatives or people related to Dorah had sold her land to a unknown woman, prompting him to formally complain to Dorah.
Bartee said Dorah has yet to issue him permission as promised, despite an investigation proving Bartee is the rightful owner of the property. Bartee added that the “illegal buyer” of his property from Dorah’s alleged collaborators had ongoing construction work on the property.
For Melvin Z. Lackay, he alleged that he paid US$16,000 through Dorah to the Doewein family for 30 acres of land, but was having difficulty taking full possession of the land.
Fast forward, on June 28 of this year (2022), a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was filed with Dorah, Rep. Tarponweh and others as part of the investigation to determine if the 2019 crises had or had not been resolved, either through legal proceedings or other acceptable means.
Joe Dorah: Margibi Land Administrator
Commissioner Dorah did not respond to our access to information request until mid-August, when he agreed to be interviewed on this subject.
“I have always been innocent of the allegations made against me and I remain innocent. There is no evidence anywhere and anyway that I ever took money from anyone to facilitate the sale of land and that I ate that money. Also, I have always been the peacemaker and I continue to play that role in accordance with my up-to-date portfolio,” Dorah told the Daily Observer.
According to him, allegations linking him to unorthodox deals were and continue to be politically motivated. He accused Tarponweh of being behind the alleged plot.
“He is afraid that I will become popular with my people because of the work that I do and that they will one day see me as the representative in the Legislative Assembly. He thinks his job is in jeopardy if I continue to defend the right reasons. The legislator knows that I instituted measures that led to the arrest of certain people involved in creating chaos for our community and the county in general,” he alleged.
Both Dorah and Tarponweh are supporters of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), although they apparently consider each other bitter rivals, as their remarks towards each other have shown over the years.
Dorah shared with the Daily Observer land deeds of two categories: fake and legitimate.
“It’s a false act,” he said. “It has a different signature than was originally known when Joe S. Mason was land administrator in Margibi County in 1994. The signature was forged and affixed to this other deed bearing the same year,” Dorah said in indicating that the act displayed was discovered during a land dispute between two parties. He added: “This deed was obtained from one of the parties and we made sure the real owner got the land. We have contacted the legitimate authority to prosecute him. This is how far we have to go. We are not a court and we do not have the power to seize people and imprison them,” he said.
With the support of a technician who knows how to read land deeds and confirm the authenticity of everyone who comes forward, our investigation was informed that indeed the deed posted by Commissioner Dorah was fake. Our investigation has shown that none of those who claim to be victims have ever taken Dorah to court to account for the allegations they have made against him over time.
Rep. Tilberosa S. Tarponweh
Tarponweh granted us no audience for an in-person interview, despite numerous phone calls and text messages sent to lawmakers by this reporter.
However, after more than two months, the lawmaker’s head of press and public affairs, Emmanuel Tokpa, answered a call on his boss’ phone on September 28. The call was made by this reporter from a different phone number that neither the lawmaker nor his public affairs officer would have recognized, suggesting they intentionally dodged our calls. The public affairs officer, after listening to this reporter’s questions, responded by disparaging Dorah’s claims.
“I don’t want to honor what is said by my boss, but the truth is that we did our best not only by speaking but also by making available documents to this effect in order to substantiate that our concerns were relevant and worthy. “, he said. He added that Representative Tarponweh’s office is not a court and as such the relevant authorities including the Ministry of Justice, the Liberia Lands Authority and President George Weah’s office have been written and duly informed of Dorah’s involvement in questionable business. land deals that led to conflict.
Liberia Land Authority (LLA) Public Relations Officer Kweshi Tetteh told the Daily Observer via telephone interview that the land dispute issue remains an alarming incident and needs everyone’s support.
According to LLA’s communications manager, his agency lacks the necessary financial support to do its job and as a result, land dispute cases keep piling up.
“Since the creation of the Liberia Land Authority, the government has not given us a single vehicle to work with. The microphones bearing the entity’s emblem were given to us by the World Bank for a project it sponsored. We are limited and until we can get the necessary support, the challenges continue to confront us as an institution and the country in general,” he explained.
Tetteh noted that apart from logistics, LLA lacks adequate manpower to carry out its operations across the country.
He reported that the Authority’s sub-offices across the country are not fully functioning as they should, due to a shortage of at least 16 staff, as should be the case under normal circumstances. He recorded that there was a retreat involving LLA and its stakeholders including judges and magistrates of the courts to have collaboration in addressing land crises from a legal perspective as well as forums communities, further noting that LLA needs the power to prosecute in order to expedite cases of illegal land sales.
According to him, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has no binding power to get anyone to act within the mandate of the LLA, as it is not a legislated instrument.
On the question of whether or not LLA has the necessary technicians to handle the problems of illegally making deeds, an issue that is disputed most of the time, Tetteh boasted that there are competent technicians who know how to track down. false land deeds.
Other sources interviewed, who preferred anonymity, told the Daily Observer that there are possibilities for future chaos in Marshall if the government does not penalize those involved in illegal land sales.
This report was produced with the mentorship of CEMESP thanks to the generous support of Internews.