MONROVIA: An investigation conducted by The investigative INDEPENDENT has unearthed that the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is presently occupying a privately owned property in Greenville, Sinoe County and refusing to pay rentals for more than eight (8) years.
According to our investigation, the property is situated in Farmersville, Greenville Sinoe County and consists of six (6) acres of land with more than twenty two (22) housing units. This property has been occupied by UNMIL since 2004 without the consent and knowledge of the owners- the Richard P. Greene family.
Madam Fannie Greene, the administrator of the property who walked into our offices with tears running down her cheeks, said UNMIL has been occupying her property in the southeastern county and is refusing to pay rentals.
She said the action of UNMIL not to pay for their property is causing serious economic setback for her and the rest of the family members who are supposed to benefit from proceeds generated from the property.
Madam Greene also explained that in an effort to seek redress to the situation, the family through Mr. William H. Greene wrote in August of 2008 the then Officer-In-Charge of the Engineering, Transport Unit and Procurement Sections, Mr. Francis Tumusiime. They informed him that the Richard P. Greene family owns the property UNMIL is occupying and they were therefore requesting audience with the UN Peace Keeping mission as regards the payment of rentals.
Consequently, Miss Greene said Mr. Tumusiime replied to that letter on August 27, 2008 acknowledging receipt of the Greene family’s communication. He then promised to look into the matter and get back to them (Greene family).
“Since then, they have been turning us from one place to another without any redress. Again, on March 3, 2011, Mr. Greene wrote the Procurement Section in Monrovia, this time, informing them of all the rigmaroles that have been going on and providing details of the paper trail and promises UNMIL has been making in this regard. We did not get any favorable response from the UN body. On March 23, 2011, informing UNMIL again that the family was willing to go into formal lease agreement but UNMIL elected to ignore,” Ms. Greene said.
As the search for redress was ongoing, Mr. Greene’s health degenerated and decided to make Ms. Greene, his oldest daughter, a power of Attorney to act in his stead.
Subsequently, Ms. Fannie L. Greene visited UNMIL’s Headquarters in Monrovia in search of an answer to their quest for payment and was given a “Claim Form” to fill out and asked to bring a court order stating that the property has been handed over to the family because according to UNMIL, the property was seized in 1980 for failure to pay taxes; and to produce the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), in which the Government of Liberia gave UNMIL the right to use any property turned over to them by GOL.
Ms. Greene said her legal team responded to UNMIL’s assertion regarding the seizure of the property, arguing that the Liberian Government has no right to seize a private citizen’s property outside of due process of law as required by Article 20(a) of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia. That constitutional provision states “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provision laid down in this constitution and in accordance with due process of law.”
As a result of the deadlock in getting redress, the family through their legal team represented by the Wright and Associate Law Firm filed an Action of Debt before the Commercial Court at the Temple of Justice.
But sadly, Ms. Greene said UNMIL refused to honor the court’s action on grounds that they are immune to litigation under the SOFA signed with the Government of Liberia in 2003.
When contacted to ascertain the Greene family’s claims, UNMIL said “according to the agreement between UNMIL and the Government of Liberia, it is the responsibility of the Government of Liberia to provide without cost to UNMIL, such areas for headquarters, camps or other premises as may be necessary for the conduct of the operational and administrative activities of UNMIL. Consequently, UNMIL has referred the claim of the Greene Family to the Government of Liberia for resolution. UNMIL has nothing further to add to this information.”
On the other hand, authorities at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) have acknowledged that the Greene family has been complaining that UNMIL is occupying their property without paying rentals for more than eight (8) years.
A Foreign Affairs hierarchy who begged not to be named for fear of reprisal said negotiation had been ongoing among the Greene family, UNMIL and GOL as regards the occupation of a six (6) acres of land and several housing units in Greenville Sinoe County by UNMIL without paying rentals.
The MOFA’s authority said “this issue has been lingering in the corridors of the Foreign Ministry long before I was appointed here. And when I took over, the Greene family through their lawyers resubmitted their complaint and filed a lawsuit as well. We have been negotiating but the family lawyers are responsible for the delay in completing the process.
“UNMIL agreed to transport the lawyers and some members of the family to the area the property is situated and the lawyer did not even know the boundaries of the property. So how can we go into a negotiation without knowing what is existing? In fact, the lawyer in person of Cllr. David B. Gibson, Jr. promised to get back to us with the diagram of the property but failed to do so. When we called him, he said he was on his way to the United States of America for vacation and that he would submit the document upon his return to the country. It’s been more than three months now he has refused to come. I am not going to run behind anybody for their own case. I have a lot of things to handle.”
When contacted via mobile, the lawyer representing the Legal interest of the Greene family said the assertion of the Foreign Ministry authority is “pure lie and lack substance to say the least. Its allegation has no iota of truth in it.”
Cllr. Gibson also refuted the “insinuation that UNMIL took him and some members of the Greene family to the site to show the boundaries. He refused to allow me to take a family member along and UNMIL even got mad at his action. He is simply making up stories to safe face in this unjust action being meted against these people.”
However, contrary to UNMIL’s claim that GOL is responsible to provide facilities of the UN mission, documents in the possession of this paper show that UNMIL has been leasing private properties across the country at their own expense.
According to the document, UNMIL got into a lease agreement with a lessor (name withheld) and paid Ten Thousand United States Dollars (US$10,000.00) per month.
It is not also clear whether this SOFA only applies to the Greene Family property as other private properties being occupied by UNMIL are exempted. Investigation continues.