By Mamadou Dem
Momodou Nai Ceesay, a former Secretary of State (SoS) for Local Government and Lands, yesterday, 29th September, 2014 testified before Magistrate Lamin Mbaye Snr. as the seventh prosecution witness (PW7) in the ongoing criminal case involving Lamin Waa Juwara, Tamsir Onasis Konteh and Hamidou Jallow.
The trio is standing trial at the Banjul Magistrates’ Court charged with various counts such as ‘Neglect of official duty’, ‘Making false documents’, ‘Uttering false documents, ‘Obtaining goods by false pretences’, ‘Abuse of Office’, ‘Disobedience of statutory’ and ‘Disobedience of lawful orders’. They all pleaded not guilty as charged.
In his evidence in chief, PW7 testified that he did advise the first accused to go the “alkalo” of Tanji village and get the Alkalo Certificate and then forward his claim for compensation to the Land Administration Board.
“If Mr. Tamsir Conteh was the bonafide owner of the said property, any person of a sound mind would have gone to the “alkalo” of Tanji and get the “alkalo” certificate rectified because for the compensation, a valid “alkalo” certificate and a sketch plan should be presented,” said the former Lands SoS.
PW7 told the Court that the said documents were supposed to be presented to the Lands Office for the technical team to vet all of them and after certifying them, then they would forward them to the land administration board. He said if the board is satisfied with the claim, they would then make a recommendation to the SoS for Lands.
Mr. Ceesay further told the court that the Land Administration Board is a body appointed by government to handle all land matters, including claims and compensations for lands. He said he is not aware whether the board still exists.
Under cross examination by defence counsel, Sheriff Tambedou, the witness adduced that the first accused must have been informed by the Lands Department that his application was not approved. He added that he had not seen any letter emanating from Lands Office informing Mr. Konteh that his application was not approved.
“Did you as Secretary of State write to the first accused informing him that his application was not approved?”
“No I did not. It is the responsibility of the Lands department,” he responded.
“Did you advised him to submit the Alkalo Certificate you declared as invalid to the Land Administration Board,” quizzed counsel?
“I didn’t advise him to forward that. I just advised him to go back to the “alkalo” and get a valid certificate,” said the witness.
Counsel added, “Did you receive any report from the technical department informing you that the certificate the first accused submitted was invalid?”
Nai answered, “No. But as the minister in charge of approval, it is my responsibility to inspect all supporting documents to the claim and it was during the inspection that I observed this.”
Counsel added, “Did you act on the recommendation of your technical team at the Lands department?”
“I have to vet all recommendations that are coming to me. Recommendations that I believe have all the supporting documents will be approved. Others that are without supporting documents won’t be approved,” said the former Lands SoS.
Further responding to the defence counsel’s questions, the witness told the Court that he cannot remember having a meeting together with the former Director of Lands, Mr. R.A.F. Thomas, and the first accused (Konteh). He added that he was relieved from the position of Secretary of State on the 20th January, 2002.
At that juncture, the counsel for the accused put it to the witness that he met with Mr. Konteh on several occasions regarding compensation of the piece of land situated at Tanji Layout which ended with bitter exchanges of words, but the witness, in response, said “I have never had any bitter argument with the accused person.”
The witness acknowledged knowing Mr. Pierre Tamba and Ismaila Sambou, two former ministers of Local Government and Lands, adding he does not know whether these ministers have approved compensation for the first accused.
“I am putting it to you that you refused the application only because it was Tamsir Konteh and was personal to you,” said the defence counsel.
“It was not personal to me,” responded Mr. Ceesay.
The case was adjourned for continuation on 14 October, 2014.