The CSO Working Group on Land Rights would like to express their concerns about the Draft Bill of the Land Authority Act of Liberia (LAA).
It has been announced (on Wednesday April 13, 2016), that the Liberian Senate has given a unanimous endorsement to the Draft Bill of the Land Authority Act of Liberia (LAA), which has been before that body for review since 2014. The Senate’s decision comes after major stakeholder discussions and review of the Bill by key Government actors.
The LAA is an institution that will bring together all land matters in Liberia, thereby absorbing the functions of previous Ministries that had part of their functions dealing with Land, e. g. Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy. The Lands component of that Ministry will be absorbed by the LAA.
The CSO Working Group members as yet have not yet seen the final version of the LAA that has been endorsed by the Liberian Senate. However when the draft LAA was released to the public in 2015, the Civil Society Working Group on Land Rights did comment on the LAA in consultation with the now disbanded Land Commission (LC). In our comments the CSO Working Group noted as follows:
1. “The process of drafting the proposed Land Authority into an Act was not consultative with Civil Society Organizations. Key stakeholders in the Civil Society land sector, especially the Civil Society Working Group on Land Rights in Liberia, were not consulted much as was done with the drafting of the Land Rights Policy and Land Rights Act. Since the Land Authority Act (LAA) will govern the administrative processes pertaining to land use and ownership throughout the Republic of Liberia, we as civil society organizations believe that the opinions and views of key stakeholders are important to the formulation of the LAA.
2. Secondly the structure of the governing body for the proposed Land Authority is heavy and bureaucratic. There are too many layers of authorities; the NCF, board of Commissioner and Public Land Authority, with duplicating functions and functions not too clear.
3. Also, too much power is assigned to the Chair of the Board of Commissioners. There needs to be some checks and balances within the organization, no one position should possess ultimate power to make major decision concerning land administration; especially giving Liberia’s tumultuous history with land conflict.
4. Lastly, the method in which the Board of Commissioner will be chosen is unclear, the act states on page 9 that, “… from and immediately after the passage of this act, there shall be established a BOARD OF LAND COMMISSIONERS (the “Board”) for the Authority, which shall be the governing body of the Authority”, How will this board be created? The CSOs working group on land rights stance on the creation of the board is that this board should be constructed strictly upon merit. There should be an independent vetting body which compromises of key stakeholders including CSOs. “
The CSO working group upon receipt of copies of revisions negotiated between the Government actors last month noted that some of the concerns raised were addressed, except for a major concern no. 4, proposing a vetting process for appointment of Commissioners to the new Land Body on the basis of Merit.
It must be made clear however that the Draft Land Authority Act (LRA), submitted to the Legislature in 2014 before the LAA was submitted, is still with the Senate Committee, and being reviewed by that body. The LRA is the major Bill which consummates the land reform process ensuring land rights to all categories of Liberians. Its review and eventual passage will pave the way for establishing a hall mark achievement in land reform in Liberia, as land constitutes one of the major potential drivers of post war Liberia. Again CSOs are concerned that key provisions of the LRA especially those that ensures customary land rights are secured during the revision process.
The Working Group plans to scale up its advocacy around the LRA in the coming months, leading up to August 2016, when the Legislature will take its annual break.
James M. Yarsiah, Rights and Rice Foundation and Member, CSO Working Group on Land Rights
Monrovia, April 14, 2016