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General News of Saturday, 4 February 2012

Source: Ghana Business & Finance Magazine

Government Agencies And Corporate Ghana To Feel “Heat”

..... AS GA LANDLORDS CHASE LANDS AND MONIES!

The Mantse Ankrah and E.B. Tibboh families, the customary owners of large tracts of land in Ghana’s capital Accra, having long suffered expropriation of their lands under colonial British and post-colonial Africa governments, have awoken and decided to sit up and take long-delayed action to protect their patrimony. New evidence of some improprieties in the seizure and re-allocation of their ancestral property has quickened them into a more assertive posture. Their quest for the truth to be established and justice to be done has been compelled by the Mantse Ankrah’s sense of dedication to the family heritage as well as the government’s new policy, pursuant to relevant sections of the Constitution, and the announcement of its willingness to release unused lands to original owners.

Ghana Business and Finance (GB&F), a Ghanaian monthly business magazine with global readership has learnt that after persistent failure to address their concerns by previous governments, the Mantse Ankrah family petitioned the President of the Republic of Ghana, Prof John Evans Atta-Mills before signing an agreement with a man called Nii Tetteh Yemoh, imbuing him with powers as a lawful attorney from the Mantse Ankrah family to either lawfully eject or to renegotiate and recoup all compensations and rents due the family.

New “Prince” of Ga Lands Runs After Corporate Ghana

If carefully calculated legal suits being prepared and presented by the lawful attorney of the Mantse Ankrah and E. B. Tibboh families of Accra are successful, the stability and business plans of many prominent businesses in Ghana will be affected in the coming months and years. Big corporate names such as Standard Chartered, Melcom, Barclays Bank, Ghana Commercial Bank, Unilever, MTN, Japan Motors, Graphic Corporation, and a host of big names in the recent political history of Ghana are amongst the institutions and individuals who are expected soon to show proof and evidence of their lawful ownership of lands on which have been built massive multi-million cedi edifices. Given that an acre of land in some prime areas of Accra now sells for no less than one million dollars, the law suits that cover several thousand acres, could become amongst the largest multi-billion dollar land cases ever decided on in Ghanaian courts.

The interesting revelations shown to GB&F investigative team, coming out of the efforts of Nii Yemoh, assisted by a team of lawyers, led by a senior man at the bar, Kojo Antwi Abanquah (Esq), is that even where colonial and post-colonial governments may be deemed to have lawfully acquired lands “in the public interest” and or “for public purposes” as prescribed by law, such lands have subsequently been freely and openly traded and leased, sold or assigned to other entities, including total foreigners, to the detriment of the original owners of the land. In many of these cases, no compensation was paid at the time of the initial acquisitions to the relevant Ga families, or where modest compensation was paid, the families were supposed to still receive a token annual rent to demonstrate that they are the original owners. However, often such annual rents have not been paid, as various heads of Ga families have died without leaving good records of their stewardship and their descendants too have taken to either litigation or total abstinence in dealing with these matters.

Selling Galore!

In another large number of cases, some unscrupulous lawyers, some of them Ga, noting that their family elders were asleep at the wheel, have surreptitiously leased or sold these lands “legally” to total strangers, some Lebanese, others Indian and increasingly in recent years, Nigerians and other foreigners. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official at the Lands Commissions said, “My brother, in Ghana today, you can buy beautiful land without showing any proof of identity or even nationality. Just ask anybody who has bought land at East Legon or Airport Residential whether they were ever asked to present their passport or birth certificate at any stage of the proceedings.”

The fury of the Ga-Dangbe people over the loss of their prime lands has become even more acute by virtue of the recent spate of commercialisation of lands in Accra by successive governments. Whereas, the colonial UK government may “legally” have taken some lands in the Accra area “in the public interest” and for “public purposes”, and the successor Ghanaian governments after independence in 1957 have continued this practice, the legal and constitutional question has arisen in recent years whether after forcibly acquiring such lands even “legally”, the government then has the right, without recourse to the original land owners, to sell these lands on near-commercial terms to real estate developers? It is well known in Ghana that anyone who succeeds in obtaining any lands leased by the government in prime residential areas stands to mint money almost with limit effort. This, over the last two decades in particular, governments have sold or leased Accra lands to commercial developers, who have turned around and “flipped” such lands to other developers for a quick profit, or have cannibalized the land by packing a number of homes on the lands and selling or renting them out for huge returns. All these transactions have taken place while the children and descendants of the original owner have stood and watched in silence and disbelief.

Speaking to GB&F at his offices in Accra, Nii Yemoh said: Look, I can take you to a number of lands and buildings in Accra and you will be shocked to hear of those who are supposed to own these lands. In many of these sad cases, prominent politicians and even former heads of state and their wives are behind such ownership or leases. And some collect rent on these properties every single month, without us the real owners getting anything! The time for justice has arrived, I tell you!” said Nii Yemoh, in a scarcely concealed rage.

Continuing, Nii Yemoh said, “Many are those who have used twisted legalities, false misrepresentation and fraudulent documents to acquire their properties. Indeed, it would shock you to find that in some cases, people are living in fine houses and using multi-storey office blocks and industrial estates without any papers whatsoever. Indeed, in a recent case, when we confronted a prominent Lebanese business family, they advised us quietly that indeed they have no documents and cannot prove that they are the land owners. They invited us to go ahead and sell or lease the land to another willing buyer or tenant, as long as we give them some percentage of any money we realize from the sale or lease. Can you believe that?” he asked in pained amazement.

…even State Officials?

Another interesting case is pending in Ghanaian courts where former ministers and top officials of the Kufuor administration are suing the Government of Ghana for recovering the land that had been known for decades as the International Students Hostel, since the era of Kwame Nkrumah. In another case, a former Kufuor minister, is defending himself against a suit brought against him by two NDC deputy ministers challenging his right to buy an acre of land with a massive government bungalow on it that is directly opposite the Mormon Church in Accra. The deputy ministers of the current Mills administration claim that it was improper for President Kufuor to have sold that government land to one of his ministers. Similarly, the NDC government as a whole is also of the belief that the International Students Hostel land should not have been divided up and sold to some NPP ministers and officials.

Whether the NDC or the NPP ministers are right is not the focus of this story. What, however, should be of interest to any fair-minded reader is how come government officials of one political party or another should be fighting over land that does not belong to either. What about the original land owners from whom these lands were taken “for the public interest” long ago by a colonial government? Is it really for “public purposes” and “in the public interest” for political party officials and government ministers to be fighting for the ownership of lands that belonging to other people?

The disdain with which the Ga people are treated by successive governments can be gleaned from the fact that neither of the disputants in these cases or even the Lands Commission which facilitated these transactions has found it necessary to attach the relevant Ga chiefs or families to the law suits almost as if these people are irrelevant or do not exist.

Herein lies the challenge that faces the descendants of Mantse Ankrah and E.B. Tibboh, as well as their lawful attorney, Nii Ben Tettey Yemoh. As long as the descendants of these Ga families are determined to recover most or all of their patrimony, the business and financial sector in Ghana needs to sit up, sharpen their legal skills and determine to negotiate in good faith for the smooth running of their businesses.

Give Back Our Lands or Renegotiate…or else?

The position of the Mantse Ankrah family is that the North Industrial Estate was compulsorily acquired for industrial purposes, but there has been a change of the use of the compulsorily acquired land as against the original purpose of the acquisition. In other words, some outfits which are not industrial at all have been acquiring portions of the land for other purposes. Amongst these are mere traders, bus transporters, and even churches. Now the Mantse Ankrah family is claiming the North Industrial Estate on the basis of a judgment of the Court of Appeal dated 31st January, 1966.

This claim is in consonance with Article 20 (1) of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic, which provides that ‘No property of any description, or interest in or right over any property shall be compulsorily taken possession of or acquired by the State unless the taking of possession or acquisition is necessary in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning or the development or utilization of property in such a manner as to promote the public benefit and the compulsory acquisition is made under a law which makes provision for the prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation’.

The Constitution further provides that any property compulsorily taken possession of or acquired in the public interest or for a public purpose shall be used only in the public interest or for the public purpose for which it was acquired. Where the property is not used in the public interest or for the purpose for which it was acquired, the owner of the property immediately before the compulsory acquisition, shall be given the first option for acquiring the property and shall on such re-acquisition refund the whole or part of the compensation paid to him as provided for by law or such other amount as is commensurate with the value of the property at the time of the re-acquisition.

The Mantse Ankrah family acting per their lawful attorney, Benjamin Tetteh Yemoh, has in this regard served writs of summons and sued a number of companies and churches situated in the North Industrial Area in consonance with the Constitutional provision. The churches affected include: Winners Chapel International, Winners Chapel Ghana, Christ Embassy, Lighthouse Chapel International (the Qodesh) among others.

The family has also served writ of summons to some organizations including Mantrac, Melcom group of companies, VIP transport, SSNIT among others. It is the case of the Mantse Ankrah family that these companies and religious bodies are not supposed to be there in the first place. The family claims that these organizations are also paying rents to people who are not customary family representatives. Family sources say some of the churches pay as much as US$6000 monthly as rent to people who are not the rightful owners of the land, including to officials of a Government agency, which had originally been allocated the land.

Now, the Roll Call….

On Friday, August 5, 2011, the Mantse Ankrah family published in the New Crusading Guide, the list of some of the companies that are situated on these lands. They included: Ghana Rubber Products, Glo Mobile Ghana, TFT, KIMO Homes, Allutrade, Interplast Ghana Limited, Agropack Limited, Ghana Mirror Factory, Prestige Motor Company, P.H.C Motors, Modern Auto Services, Graphic Communication Group Limited, Rana Motors, Toyota Ghana Limited, Good Year, KIA Motors, Express Maintenance, Rainbow Trading, Azar Paints, Multi Tech, Sickens Paints, Zenith Bank (Tamakloe House), Honda, Japan Motors, Pepsi, Stanbic Bank, Audi, Orca Deco, New Times Corporation, African Concrete, SSNIT (Feo Oyo street), State Transport Company, MTN Head Office.

Others include: Accra Brewery Limited, Fan Milk Ghana Limited, Chandirams Shops, U.A.C Companies, Circle Station, Rawlings Park Accra, Adjabeng AMA Buildings, Kaneshie Market, Ghana Supply Company, Ghana Cocoa Board, Divestiture Implementation Committee, Ridge Hospital, Glico House, Novotel (Accra), Bank of Ghana, SSNIT property owners, Judicial Service premises, Electricity Company (Accra), A.M.A from Awudome and across, Despite Stores, Lebanon House, Latex Foam and Ashfoam Limited (all of Industrial area), Dakman House, former Ringway Hotel, Paloma Hotel, all occupants of Okaishie, Allston House, all occupants of Agbogbloshie, Pyramid House, La GNTC distribution yard, Coffee Shop (Labone), Chinese Commodities wholesalers and Gospel Light International Church.

The rest are Top Kings, Odo Rice (Circle), Forewin Ghana Limited, City Paints, Nayak Plaza, U.T.C Building, GEO Pharmacy, Ministries and National Lotteries, all occupants from Kojo Thompson Road and beyond, shell Filling Station, Goil Filling Station, Total Filling Station, Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, S.I.C Life, Prudential Bank, Tigo Head Office, the National Museum (all within Accra Central), Volvo Company Limited and lastly GIHOC Pharmaceutical at Achimota.

The popular defense of most of the companies and religious organizations is that their sites and locations were given them by the government of Ghana acting through the Lands Commission, but the stance of the Mantse Ankrah family is that, in contravention to the Article (20) of the Constitution of the Republic, many of the lands in the North Industrial Area are not been used for the intended purpose as stated by the government during acquisition. Car and tractor dealerships, selling of generators or air-conditioners, and praying to God cannot be considered as industrial activities, worthy though they may be, avers the lawful Attorney of Mantse Ankrah. The family sources say they are in court to demand their pound of flesh, since the government has breached the agreement and has offended the constitution.

The family has also discovered that large tracts of lands in the South Industrial Area were never acquired by the government of Ghana. According to Benjamin Tettey Yemoh, the lawful attorney and Kojo Antwi Abankwa (the family solicitor), the whole of South Industrial Area was never acquired by the government of Ghana. Hence, the Mantse family, acting per its lawful attorney, has sued the Lands Commission for taken over the lands without the consent of the family and also for giving out the lands in the South Industrial Area to certain companies. The question as to how these companies were granted the lands without the appropriate compensation is an issue that is still been resolved in the Lands Court between the Mantse Ankrah family and the Lands Commission and other co-defendants.

Now that several cases have been filed in court by the Mantse Ankrah and Tibboh families, nobody can make comments on the substance and merits of specific cases until the final rulings which are expected to occur in the early parts of 2012. Whichever way the cases may end, it is expected that companies would learn their lessons and ensure that they get proper titles from land owners before they transact major business.

Source: (GB&F)

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