US$500M Somalia Drive Contractors in ‘Eviction’ Lawsuit

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The Japanese contractor building the Somalia Drive road (pictured) is threatened with eviction.

Dai Nippon Construction Company (DNC), one of several contractors hired to construct the four-lane Somalia Drive in Gardnersville, could likely be evicted by Civil Law Court ‘A’ because of a pending lawsuit filed by ‘aggrieved’ property owners.

The Somalia Drive project, with a price tag of US$500 million, is a bilateral agreement between the Liberian Government and the Government of Japan.

The action by the court might have come from the ongoing lawsuit of “summary proceedings” brought against the DNC by KNZ, the company that subleased the property, to recover possession of the corporation.

Judge Boima Kontoe, meanwhile, reserved his ruling for Tuesday, December 5. His decision follows arguments presented by lawyers representing the defendant and complainant on whether or not the court should compel DNC to vacate the said property.

The property at the center of the eviction was sub-leased by KNZ, but was not part of the road project that required DNC to construct residential facilities for its foreign contractors.

KNZ’s lawsuit alleges that in 2014, it sub-leased the piece of land to DNC for a period of three years with an option to review the lease upon its expiration.

Cllr. Benedict Sannoh, who represented the company, contended that the parties mutually agreed and understood that upon the expiry of the three-year period, the option is DNC’s to renew and or extend the agreement for an additional three years under the same terms and conditions.

The former Justice Minister, who himself was part of the negotiation for the construction workers, argued that during the optional period, the parties agreed that the rent would be US$3,500 per month or US$126,000 for the entire three-year optional period payable in two equal installments, with US$63,000 to be paid on the commencement date of April 1, this year.

The second installment, US$63,000, is scheduled to be paid upon the expiration of the first 18 months of the additional period.

They also claimed that the sub-lease agreement provides that the sub-lessee shall have the right to extend the contract for an additional period of three years upon the expiration of the agreed term, provided that they give a written notice of their intention to extend the agreement, at least 90 days prior to the expiration of the contract.

“DNC abandoned the lease agreement consistent with its terms and conditions that has expired since March 31,” KNZ claimed.

According to KNZ, on March 7, they wrote DNC informing them that in view of their failure to exercise the agreement of the sub-lease and ignoring the required 90-day optional period, the property owner asked them to vacate the premises and surrender it to them by March 31, which DNC allegedly refused to accept.

“In the communication, they were informed that we have entered into a sub-lease agreement with a third party for the premises to avoid a vacuum; and so, they should turn over the said property,” KNZ lawsuit alleged.

In his counterargument, DNC’s lead lawyer, Arthur Johnson, said the sub-lease agreement was entered into on March 6, 2014 for the purpose of constructing the road.

Though Cllr. Johnson claimed that DNC has legal possessor right over the property by virtue of the agreement, “but after the signing of the lease agreement by the parties, Liberia was greatly affected by the Ebola epidemic, which obstructed all activities; so we were forced to suspend our operations,” the DNC lawyer argued.

The company’s foreign staff left the country in September 2014 and subsequently returned in October, 2015, but they were unable to carry out any work on the premises, Johnson said.

“While the negotiation between the parties for the sub-lease agreement was ongoing, and during that time, KNZ failed to state or make full disclosure about the leased property prior to signing that the ownership was in dispute before the Civil Law Court,” Johnson alleged.

“If we had known that the lease was in dispute between KNZ and a third party, we would have never signed the sub-lease and erected any permanent structure worth US$300,000,” Johnson argued.

“We have also paid an advance more than three years’ rent at the annual rate of US$63,000, (but) KNZ is seeking to evict the occupants,” Johnson said, before asking the court not to evict the company, because they were in compliance with the agreement.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Well, if it isn’t a typical mentality – personal pecuniary advantage dwarfing the common good – let somebody convincingly shoot down that perception.

    I don’t know what the author of this piece means by “bilateral agreement”. Because the only thing ‘’bilateral” about the Somalia Drive project is EJS being regarded enough by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and loving her country dearly to persuade the Japanese government that Monrovia needed a major freeway to ease nerve – racking traffic congestion and loss productivity caused by long hours of delays on Bushrod Island. (Which included Liberia paying for destruction of houses jutting out towards the proposed route). So actually, it is a Japanese – financed and supervised project; in other words, a gift. That’s why those who would screw DNC, screw the Liberian people.

    For JICA, the Japanese version of USAID handling funding, never expected huge cost overruns, especially, for incidental expenses such as worksite command post and few residences to house some foreign engineers and specialized labor. In hindsight, perhaps, Ministry of Public Works lawyers should have reviewed ‘eminent domain’, and considered advising EJS to use it in commandeering some surrounding real estate. Understandably, this lawsuit could make other donor nations hesitate in helping with similar projects. And God knows the country needs nationwide road networks, but don’t have money to pay for them. Not to mention that political platforms promising roads in these elections won’t be fulfilled by flowery rhetoric, or heartfelt wishes, for that matter.

    Thus we must make manifold sacrifices were our country to get out of backwardness and poverty: Expansion of the Somalia Drive road isn’t about beautifying Monrovia, it is critical to public safety and vital to Liberia’s economic recovery.

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