The ECOWAS Court, on Monday 10 July 2023 ordered the Republic of Sierra Leone to pay US$20,000.00 (Twenty thousand US Dollars) to a local company, UNISEL limited, for interfering with its property rights.

This followed the refusal or failure of the agents of the government to allow the company enjoy the rights to a property it legitimately acquired from the government in 2013.

Delivering judgment on Monday, 10th July 2023 in the suit, Justice Dupe Atoki, who read the decision of the Court, said the action of the government amounted to the violation of the Company’s right to the 4.99 Acres of private property belonging to the company.

In particular, she declared that the right to property of the Applicant, in regard to the land situated off Wilberforce Loop, Wilberforce, Freetown, Sierra Leone  and delineated on Survey Plans dated the 4th October, 2013, was violated by the Respondent.

Consequently, the judge held that the Respondent is not entitled to enter, use or sell  the land and therefore ordered the Respondent State to ensure that its Ministry of  Lands, Housing and Country Planning, including the Director of Survey Plans, expeditiously processe, approves and signs the private Licensed Surveyor Plans of the Applicant on the property that is the subject of the suit.

The Court also ordered the State to ensure that there are no delays in future processing, approvals and signature for sub division Survey Plans  relating to the Applicant’s land which is the subject matter of the suit.

In the initiating application No: ECW/CCJ/APP/30/22 filed before the Court, the Applicant averred that the Respondent sold to them a parcel of land with buildings situated  and lying Off Wilberforce Loop, Wilberforce Freetown in the Western Area of the Republic of Sierra Leone and delineated on Survey Plans dated 4 October 2013 plot No.1 measuring 4.6967 acres in area.

The Applicant told the Court that the property consist of land and buildings for which they paid the sum of Le.219, 500,000.00 (Two Hundred & Nineteen Million, Five Hundred Thousand Leones) for the plots of land and  another $250,000.00 (Two Hundred and fifty Thousand United States Dollars) for the buildings.  Based on these payments, the applicant said a Deed of Conveyance dated 27 November 2013 was executed.

The applicant said that on 4th January 2022,  it discovered a shortfall in the number of plots originally allocated to them and therefore resubmitted a new survey to the Director of Surveys and Lands to countersign in accordance with Section 15 of the Survey Act Cap 128 of the laws of Sierra Leone, 1960. However, despite several written reminders,  the applicant said that the Director refused to sign the new survey and counter sign a survey for a portion of the plot bought by one  Mr. Rabih Skeiky from the company.

The Applicant further averred that to their amazement and during the pendency of this suit, the Respondent entered the said landed property and installed several beacons informing the security personnel on site that the property belongs to the Respondent.

Consequently, the Applicant claimed that the conduct of the Respondent has prevented them from disposing off the property.

Invoking Article 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Applicant accused the Respondent of persistently interfering with the exercise of its property rights over the property which amounts to the control of its property and abuse of their fundamental human right.

Moreover, the applicant said that the action of the Respondent in refusing to countersign the survey plan is contrary to section 15 of the survey act of Sierra Leone Law.

The Respondent did not file any defence in the instant matter and in response to the Applicant’s processes despite being served.

Among the reliefs sought, is an order of the Court to adjudge and declare that the Respondent is sustainably violating their right to property contrary to Article 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ rights and Article 17 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

It also asked the Court to adjudge and declare that the Respondent’s persistent failure to approve and countersign Sub-division Licensed Survey Plans submitted to the Respondent’s Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning for signature to enable the Applicant to sell to potential buyers deprived the Applicant of its right to earn income for further investment which is incompatible with its right to own private property and a gross violation of the Applicant’s rights as guaranteed by Section 15(a) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991 Act   No. 6 of 1991.

The applicant urged the Court to order the Respondent to pay  it the sum of US$1,615,000.00 (One Million, Six Hundred & Fifteen Thousand United States Dollars) being the market price for 1.7169 acres representing 19 Town lots being the difference of the land actually sold by the Respondent to the Applicant but never existed on the ground after the re-surveying.

It also asked the Court for an  order compelling the Respondent to pay damages in the sum of US$1,785,000.00 (One Million, Seven Hundred and Eighty-Five Thousand United States Dollars) in compensation for the loss of income, investment opportunity and expansion due to deprivation and unlawful interference in the sale of 21 town lots. Moreover, it urged the Court to direct the State of Sierra Leone to pay interest on the total sum of US$3,400,000.00 (Three Million, Four Hundred Thousand US Dollars) computed at the prevailing Bank rate at the time of the Order until payment is completed.

Also on the Court’s three-member panel for the suit were Justices Sengu M. Koroma and Ricardo Claudio Monteiro Gonçalves.