Walter Wisner, the Commissioner responsible for land administration at the Lands Commission, who testified on Tuesday in the ongoing US$6 million Private Use Permit (PUP) case, has clarified that his Commission did not involve the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME), regarding the validation of 59 deeds that were investigated by them.
The permit authorized logging companies to operate on 2.5 million hectares of farmland, of which 59 deeds government is alleging were fraudulently issued to the company by Moses Wogbeh, dismissed Managing Director of theForestry Development Authority (FDA), along with other senior management and a senior surveyor of the MLME.
Testifying at Criminal Court ‘C’ as prosecution’s fourth witness when he was asked by defense team, whether during his commission’s investigation of the 59 deeds, the Ministry played any role, according to its statutory mandate, to conduct surveys and other land activities.
Wisner, who was also vice chair on the technical committee of the Presidential Special Independent Investigation Body (SIIB) whose investigation charged the defendants, replied, “We, the Land Commission was specifically clear as to what the SIIB wanted us to do. And as I had indicated and re-stated, the request was to authenticate the land records and deeds. We were asked to validate the records attached to the PUPs. We were not asked to deal with land issues.”
He further explained, “The Land Commission received a special request from the SIIB to carry out a thorough vetting of records attached to 59 deeds that formed the basis for the awarding of the PUP contract to logging companies.”
Furthered asked during cross examination to explain some of the responsibilities of the Commission, he said, ”the Commission was created to look into all lands related laws, with a view to reform them, and it is also delegated with the authority to provide equal access to all citizens of Liberia.”
More besides, he added, “It has the fundamental duty to provide security and to call together all ministries and agencies that do land business to deal with complex land issues in the country.”
Asked whether all ministries he referred to include the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME), he again said, ”I am speaking to the Act that created the Land Commission. In case of complex land issues, all institutions that deal with land issues should be brought together to discuss complex land issues. So, obviously when there is a complex land issue the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy which deals with land surveys and other issues as related to their statutory mandate will be called upon to discuss complex land issues.
Again asked how long it took him to thoroughly review, search and validate the 59 deeds that were submitted to him by the PUPs investigator, witness Wisner replied, “It took a long and sufficient time.”
The defendants were charged for their individual roles in facilitating the wrongful and illegal issuance of sixty-one PUPs that authorized commercial logging operation on the 2.5 million hectares of farm land.
The crimes for which they are being tried include economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, forgery or counterfeiting, obtaining and issuing deceptive writings and obstruction of government functions by public servants.