With the prevalence of land cases across Liberia, the Daily Observer has reliably learnt that several land cases are lingering at the Circuit Court in Monrovia, with some spending nearly a decade on the docket.
According to Stanley N. Toe, executive director of the Liberia Land Authority (LLA), over the years, land issues have been the cause of serious conflicts in Liberia, resulting in the loss of lives and the destruction of properties.
According to a document in possession of the Daily Observer, out of 49 cases that were assigned in 2017, only one reached the final ruling stage of the court proceeding, which resulted in the defendant re-possessing his land and the rest were rescheduled.
In the March 2017 term of court, particularly at the Circuit Court in Monrovia, some of the land cases that faced several issues that stalled, included plaintiff George E. Henries versus Augustine Brown, which is currently on deposition, and plaintiff Harrison W. Yaidoo versus defendant Emmanuel Dixon, which is on objection, awaiting a survey report.
The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) said about 30 percent of court cases at the Civil Law Court in Montserrado are land related, with actions ranging from ejection to summary proceedings to recover real property.
According to CENTAL’s findings, fake deeds are common, and that parties claiming ownership of land often proffer deeds not probated and registered with the Deeds Registry.
The organization has also said that certified copies of deeds, lawfully issued upon showing that the original was damaged or lost, have mostly turned out to be fraudulent because such copies can be easily forged as compared to originals.
CENTAL among many things recommended that land cases revealing forgery should be prosecuted by the government in order to deter such conduct.
Meanwhile, the Government of Liberia completed the passage of the Criminal Conveyance Law (CCL) in 2014 and the establishment of the LLA and according to Atty. Julius Addy, since the passage of the Criminal Conveyance Law, only two persons were found guilty by the Circuit Court.
“Today, we no longer have many people easily selling one land to two or three persons as we used to experience prior to the passage of the Criminal Conveyance Law in 2014. Surveyors and landowners continue to regard the law,” Atty. Addy told the Daily Observer recently in Monrovia.
“Today, we no longer have landowners, lawyers, and surveyors who engage in selling lands going free. We now see people finding common ground in such situations,” another lawyer indicated.
However, a question as to why Circuit Court judges sign deeds without ascertaining claims on validity which leads to multiple sales of land is yet to be answered.
LLA Coordinator Paul Alex Tolbert, who is responsible for handling land disputes, said Liberia has made great progress, but added that the empowerment of the LLA would also assist in resolving many of the issues regarding land conflicts and land grabs in Liberia.
According to him, Liberia is one foot ahead of its recent past in terms of mechanisms to solve land issues, especially with the establishment of the LLA which, he said, continues to be very helpful in all aspects.
“We now have a one-stop shop when it comes to land matters across Liberia. Today, the LLA is responsible for surveying lands, which was first under the Ministry of Lands, Mines, and Energy. Deeds registration, which was first under the Center for National Documents and Records Agency (CNDRA), now falls under the LLA,” he said.
Tolbert indicated that the LLA now has dispute resolution centers that are making great impacts across Liberia, adding, “We can now grade 40 percent in terms of abilities to resolve land disputes, although we still have a lot to do as a country.”
According to the coordinator, Montserrado County continues to report the highest cases of land conflicts and grabs, followed by Margibi, Nimba, Maryland, Lofa, and Grand Bassa.
He said while other counties are also experiencing land conflicts, “it continues to be at a low-level percentage,” stating that he hopes Liberia can continue to make progress.
According to Tolbert, the dispute section in the township of Brewerville is now the face of the LLA, because land crisis, including fraud, are investigated by the section.
“Today, we have 16 cases, which indicate that the issue of land grabs is on the increase. In 2016, there were a total of 200 plus cases for Montserrado County alone. We continue to work with the probate court, the CNDRA, and lawyers to ensure that land issues in our country are resolved,” he said.
He continued: “There are a lot of cases, and if someone conveyed a land in 2010, the person cannot be penalized for it under the Criminal Conveyance Law, which was passed in 2014. There are many cases that should be prosecuted under this Law, but it’s not happening.”
Working with the court, he said, “We learned that there are a number of cases on the docket, which has led to the court transferring cases to the Liberia Land Authority for faster action. I think the courts have a huge task, order than land cases. There are hundreds of other cases that are also in court.”
Despite these challenges, Tolbert said the LLA is pressing on to ensure that land conflicts and grabs are a thing of the past.