-Victims pursue legal recourse
Documented complaints in the possession of the Daily Observer, from few of the victims as well as the offices of the Margibi County Superintendent, Jerry Varney and District #1 Representative, Tibelrosa S. Tarponweh, reveal that the County Land Administrator, Mr. Joe Dorah, has collected tens of thousands of United States Dollars as payments for parcels of land from unsuspecting land buyers, without delivering any to those he allegedly took the money from.
Land authority or middleman?
The signed statements by the complainants reveal that Dorah allegedly received not less than US$85,000 (and a pickup truck) from these people, under the pretext that, given his position as Land Administrator of Margibi County, any land procured through his office would be legitimate.
Apparently, they were wrong.
Some of those who purchased land through Dorah said they were dragged to court, others nearly attacked by aggrieved youth claiming to be heirs to the original landowners, while others, still, returned to see foundations erected by unknown persons on lands that they (complainants) had purchased.
A statement signed by Mrs. Helena Nah on June 20, 2019, says that in 2017, Mr. Joe Dorah received the amount of US$9,800 in three installments for two lots of land situated in Marshall, but he is yet to produce a deed for the land.
The statement by Mrs. Nah is a part of a dossier of complaints made to Margibi County District #1 Representative Tilbersoa Tarponweh and the County Superintendent, Jerry Varney.
“Since that time, I have been requesting for the deed, but to no avail,” Nah said in her signed statement. “The unnecessary delay in giving me the deed prompted me to ask for my money, which he has also refused to give me.”
When contacted via mobile phone, Nah informed the Daily Observer that she has also filed legal action against Joe Dorah and is looking forward to the legal proceedings.
“I cannot not say anything further other than the notice you have with you speaking out my frustration and disappointment at a government official who should protect the interest of his people and the government he serves,” she said with a deep sigh.
Another complainant, Mr. Kelvin Paye, in his signed letter to Superintendent Varney, dated June 21, 2019, narrated that that his organization, World of Life Fellowship, with the help of Mr. Dorah spent US$59,200 for sixteen acres of land in the Marshall area. According to Paye, after Dorah received payment for the land in question, a family showed up, claiming ownership of the land.
“Since we did not want any further court interactions with this family, we pleaded with Joe Dorah, who received funds from us for this property to initiate a dialogue with this family so as to allow us the opportunity to reimburse the family their purchase price and any other expenses they had made in relation to the piece of property as as means of settling this matter, which will also enable the organization to embark on actual construction of the facilities that are intended to provide the much needed training opportunities for our youth who are the beneficiaries of this program,” Paye said.
He added: “We have made several visits, telephone calls to Mr. Dorah but he never picked our calls. We have come to the conclusion that he has no intention or interest in helping to settle the problem, and are not willing to be the loser in this situation, having spent this huge amount of money and to also watch our young people lose such opportunities that we have worked so hard to attract to our dear country.”
Paye therefore appealed to Superintendent Varney “to kindly ask Mr. Dorah to take up his responsibility in ensuring that we have access to this property since we have paid for it with Dorah’s consent.”
The Superintendent’s office received another complaint against Mr. Dorah, this time from Johnetta Wiggins, a Liberian residing in the United States of America. In her complaint, she said on January 2, 2017 she obtained a parcel of land, situated in Foday Town, Margibi County, from Mr. Dorah in exchange for a 2008 red Ford Ranger pickup truck.
According to Wiggins, the deal was carried out in the presence of two witnesses.
“Jacob Smith was the gentleman who turned the pickup over to Mr. Dorah and Hawa Morris, my sister, represented me at the time. But [some] months ago, Jacob Smith was driving by that land and he saw a new foundation built on the land,” she said.
Wiggins added that she contacted Mr. Dorah and he apologized and assured her that she could get her land back; that she did not need to hire a lawyer and that she should save her money and stop listening to anyone.
“I had a court date on March 28, 2019 to retrieve the property,” she said.
“Mr. Superintendent, I greatly appreciate your attention and action as a fair individual who seeks justice for all men and with great respect, I am asking Mr. Dorah to give me back my land and everything else that comes with it. I am waiting to provide to your office all legal documents and witnesses to solidify my complaint,” she said.
A fourth complaint, from one Mr. Naree K. Bartee, dated July 12, 2019, said, “In February this year, I went on my land, which is located on Kpakpacon along the Marshall highway and I noticed an unknown person started constructing on my land. I immediately registered my case with the Land Commissioner of Margibi because I don’t want to take the law into my own hand. The land in question is one acre.”
According to Bartee, Dorah invited him and the person said to have been trespassing on the land.
“We went through the case and I was promised a clearance by the Land Commissioner, Hon. Joe Dorah, because the land is mine from his investigation, but each time I called for clearance, he will schedule me. [It] went on and on [and] as of today date I never received clearance,” he said.
Bartee said the lady who was building on his land has not stopped her building.
“I don’t want trouble, Hon. Superintendent. This is Margibi, so please intervene in my case because a reliable person told me that those guys that sold my land to the lady are related to the Land Commissioner and I suspect foul play in my case,” Bartee said.
Additionally, Mr. Melvin Z. Lackay, also, on June 21, 2019 addressed a letter of complaint against Mr. Dorah to the office of Rep. Tarponweh, stating that on March 10, 2018 he paid US$5,000 as part payment of US$16,000 for 30 acres of farm land.
Lackay said that he paid another amount of US$9,000 directly to Mr. Joe Dorah for the Doewein family who are said to be the owners of the land but later on a group of young men raised alarm that Mr. Dorah did not inform them about the deal.
“The youth, after discovering that Dorah sold the property to me for US$16,000 but never received what they wanted from him, they came up one day and disrupted my construction project; even though he (Mr. Dorah) was present along with some elders. My corner stone was broken,” he alleged.
He alleged in his complaint that Mr. Dorah asked him to make available US$2,000 in order to quiet down the youth and he (Lackay) presented the amount, which was later distributed among the youth by Dorah.
Lackay said that Dorah promised to give the youth US$5,000, an amount said to have been the balance owed by Lackay for the completion of the US$16,000. Dorah, Lackay complained, did not live up to his promise, thereby putting him (Lackay) and his family at risk with the youth over the land he already paid for.
He recounted that several other money transactions took place between him (Lackay) and Dorah and other residents of the place from which he went after the land.
Joe A. Dorah was appointed Land Administrator of Margibi County by President George Manneh Weah on October 4, 2018. When contacted, Mr. Joe Dorah told the Daily Observer that he is innocent of all of the allegations levied against him and urged anyone who thinks he or she has a case with sufficient pieces of evidence to proceed to court.
“I am in consultation with my lawyer. I am planning to sue Rep. Tibelrosa Tarpnweh for going on the radio and tarnishing my reputation,” Dorah said, noting further that he will firstly take Rep. Tarponweh’s complaint to the Governance Council and the Executive Committee of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).
Attempts to reach Margibi Superintendent Jerry Varney for comment on the complaints did not materialize.
However, Rep. Tarponweh has written the Liberia Land Authority calling for the removal of Mr. Dorah for engaging into acts that are inconsistent with his term of reference.
“I present my compliments and herewith write to bring to your attention a syndicate of dubious land deals spreading through my constituency, Margibi Electoral District #1,” Tarponweh said in his letter to the Liberia Land Authority, dated August 26, 2019.
“This involves Mr. Joe Dorah, Land Administrator of Margibi. My investigation reveals that not only did he victimize private citizens, he has engaged in the prolific selling of public lands, which the law does not require him to do so,” he said.
He added that his office is now inundated with complaints of questionable land sales by Dorah, who is supposed to have the trust of the public.
The Margibi County District #1 Lawmaker also described Mr. Dorah as a “colorful character and common thief “.
“If the current fake sales and double dealings in land are not brought under control, the potential for an out-of-control land conflict is eminent,” Tarponweh said, adding that there is also a huge deal of unwarranted public land sale ongoing in his District through the direct supervision of Dorah.
The Liberia Land Authority, through its spokesperson, Arthur Tucker, said they have received Rep. Tarponweh’s letter requesting investigation into the alleged clandestine land deals carried out by Mr. Dorah.
“We are investigating and, hopefully any time soon, we will invite the parties to the matter and get the side of each of them. It is also required of us to go to the site of a land conflict and investigate more,” Tucker told the Daily Observer.
For those, like Helena Nah, who have outrightly sued the Land Administrator Dorah, Liberian law concerning the criminal conveyance of land aims to set an example on violators.
The Act Against the Criminal Conveyance of Land ensures severe punishment for those found guilty of illegal land transactions. For dubious land sellers, the crime is a second degree offense, while for registered land surveyors, involvement in the crime is considered a first degree offense. For elected or appointed government or traditional officials, such as Mr. Joe A. Dorah, illegal land transactions are considered a second degree offense, which involves jail time, and restitution of the gain received from the action. Even persons holding “powerful traditional positions,” the law says, are not exempt.
According to the 2014 code of laws about the sale of land, 1st offense: a person guilty of a second degree felony shall be given a prison term of not more than 5 years and made to restitute an amount equal to double the gain received from the criminal conveyance of land.
For a second offense a person found guilty is given a mandatory 5-year prison term, the maximum prison term for a second degree felony and required to restitute the amount equal to double the payment received from the criminal conveyance of land.
A surveyor guilty of a first degree felony under this law shall be punished, both by a fine and a prison term of not less than 10 years and a permanent revocation of his or her license to practice as a surveyor.