The Civil Society Working Group on Land Reform has called on the National Legislature to speedily pass the draft land rights act, and has made recommendations geared toward improving the current draft.
Delivering the statement on behalf of the Working Group on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, Madam Florence M. Dorley-Konneh of the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of land, Forest and Fisheries (VGGT) Secretariat, touched on many issues that are key to making the proposed law work for local communities. The group stated that protecting customary land is the most important component in the Draft Act, while pointing out that the customary land category is new and therefore vulnerable to commercial interests and elite land grab. In regards to the Public Land category of the draft act, the group said that given the history of public land use and management in Liberia, any attempt to designate areas as Public Land without the consultation and informed consent of communities (customary rights holders) will likely undermine the core values, principles, and legal protection on Customary Land as entrenched in the Land Rights Policy. “Also, any process that would allow government officials to arbitrarily draw boundary lines on communities’ land will likely see a continuation of the high incidence of boundary conflicts that have recently characterized concession zones throughout the country,” the statement alarmed.
On the sale of customary land, the CSOs stressed the need to ensure that the interest of future generations and common areas on customary land are secured. The group is concerned about the implicit drive to commercialize customary land (i.e. through tribal certificates, long and intractable leases (CFMAs), concessions, public land, and protected areas) and warned that should the Act and its practical implementation allow a situation whereby common areas are not protected for communal use by the poorest families, poor Liberians will become much more impoverished. To this end, the group recommended that Article 51 (Extinction of Customary Land) of the draft LRA, which stipulates that decision of a sale of customary land is made no earlier than 99 years after the effective date of the Act, could be discussed and if possible reduced to not less than 60 years, considering objections in some quarters. The group, however, noted that the 99-year clause is meant to secure the interests of future generations and to protect common areas.
Receiving the statement on behalf of the House of Representatives, Honorable Matenokay Tingba, Chairman of the House Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy and Environment noted that progress is being made toward the passage of the bill and paid tribute to Civil Society Organizations stating that they are important in helping government and bringing about needed growth. “There is need for us to listen to your view in order to make an informed decision”, the Nimba County Lawmaker said. According to him, “bad experiences” regarding Land Administration prompted the Legislature to pass the Land Authority Act and that the passage of the draft Land Rights Act is critical to the proper functioning of the newly created Land Authority. “I assure you that we will do our ultimate best to have the LRA passed before elections”, he vowed. But CSOs are concerned about the delay and wants the Bill passed before electoral activities heighten.
Meanwhile, the group has called for the LRA to be gender responsive in all provisions where applicable by adding phrases like: irrespective of gender or marital status or inclusive of women, youths, and minorities on relevant provisions and articles. For instance, Article 36: Governance and Management, the group suggested that the membership of the CLMDA should not exceed two-thirds of each sex (men or women). Also, in areas where property is to be mortgaged, Article 69, it should be done with spousal consent where relevant.
The CSO Working Group on Land Reform was established in January 2015 by CSOs that worked closely with the former Land Commission and is comprised of the following organizations: Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Foundation for Community Initiative (FCI), Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU), Search for Common Ground (SFCG), Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL), Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), Association of Liberia Community Radio (ALICOR), Better Women for Tomorrow Development and Peace, National Charcoal Union of Liberia (NACUL), Sharp Home Care Services (SHOCAS), Farmers Union Network (FUN) Liberia, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Voice of the Voiceless (VOV) and Liberia Reform Movement (LRM), among others.