The Land Rights Act

Background

People protest for the passage of the Land Rights Act

The background on the draft LRA stems from ownership of land and tenure that has each been a subject of conflict in Liberia from the birth of this nation and up to present. It has proven beyond all reasonable droughts that this situation has and continues to have a bad reflection to community unity, peace and development.
 
To be fair to ourselves today, we must all agree that laws we have had in Liberia are not enough to solve the many problems coming from the way people get land, give out land, use land and manage land.  In response to these many land problems, the Government of Liberia in 2013 approved a new land policy called “Land Rights Policy”. The Liberian Land Commission legal drafting team took on the responsibility in translating the policy into law.
 
 On July 4th of 2014, the Land Commission delivered the first draft of the Land Rights Act (LRA) to her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia. This Act was than revised by Ministries and Agencies as well as the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) of Liberia and presently, the LRA is now in the hands of the Lawmakers for the purpose of passing the Act into law.
According to this draft Land Rights Act, the ownership of Customary Land consist of rights which include; (a) the right to possess, (b) the right to use, (c) the right to be responsible, identify and (d) define boundaries. 
 
On August 10, 2015 the national legislature conducted a joint public hearing on the draft Land Rights Act. The hearing was focused on opening the draft Act to the public and allowing participants to provide inputs so that afterward, the bill may be passed into law or rejected by that august body. There were presentations from government ministries, agencies, civil society organizations, private lawyers, and the national legislature. In preparation of this hearing, Rights & Rice Foundation (RRF) and Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) jointly organized two different meetings to prepare the CSO representatives to adequately participate and present CSO position during the hearings.
 
A special dialogue session was also conducted by the CSO Working Group under the auspices of RRF and SDI in collaboration with the Liberia Media for Democratic Initiative on August 6, 2015 at Musu’s Spot in Monrovia.
 
The Special Dialogue Session brought together 38 participants (males 29 & females 9) from 24 civil society organizations including media, advocates and Land Commission. 

Video: 2nd People's Forum on the Draft of the

Land Rights Act

RRF presents the "2nd People's Forum on the Draft of the Land Rights Act" with representatives from national and international institutions and organizations.

Monrovia, August 25, 2016

Liberian Senate Gives Concurrence To

Liberia's Land Authority Act

Customary land in Lofa County

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

The New Land Rights Act

National and international represantatives at the "2nd People's Forum" on the LRA

The new Land Right Policy suggests awarding equal protection to customary land rights: “Customary Land rights are equally protected as Private Land rights”.
 
These rights will protect community land collectively, rights of individuals and rights of family land within a community because majority of Liberians depend on their land for their livelihood. The Land Rights Policy establishes four land right types as follows:
 
(1) private land  is land owned or otherwise held by private persons protected by a legal document referred to as a deed under the laws of Liberia,
(2) public land is acquired by government through purchase, seizure, gift or otherwise which is not presently used by government for it facilities or operations,
(3) government land is a land used by government for its buildings, projects or activities that concern Government and
(4) customary land is a land owned by a community and used or managed in accordance with customary practices and standards.
 
The part of the draft policy that most relates to a community which is contained in a summary document prepared by the CSOs (RRF, SFCG, SDI and NCSCL) for the Liberian legislature, talks about three topics of the draft: (a) what the people say, (b) keeping the promise and (c) going all the way.
 
Under (a) “what the people say”, we would like to emphasize that the CSOs want citizens of Liberia to know that the draft LRA calls for customary Land to have the same status and protection as Private Land.
 
Under (b) “keeping the promise”, the CSOs also want citizens to know that the draft LRA contains a wide range of favorable protection set for customary land, and that Liberians should persuade their law makers to keep these favorable protections that has been promised in the LRA and pass it into law.
 
Under (c) “going all the way”, citizens should insist that statement that is not clear in the law governing land such as Government’s use of land under eminent domain be clearly explained what Government can and cannot use such land for with no doubt. Citizens should insist that the inheritance law protecting widowers should be embedded in this LRA and passed into law in order to protect ownership of land and property inherited by a woman who survives her husband. This draft LRA should go all the way as far as doing these things to protect its citizens.
 
In conclusion, we would like to encourage our law makers to ensure that the points made by the CSO’s summarized version of what concerns the common man be incorporated in the LRA and passed into law in order to minimize the long term land conflict in Liberia. 

Our Land, Our Future!

Over 500 advocates from across Liberia, including youth and women, came together to make their voices heard about the 2014 Draft Land Rights Act (LRA) in an organized “Sit in Action” staged at the National Legislature in the capital city, Monrovia.
 
The event, initiated by the CSO Working Group on Land Reform in Liberia, provided an opportunity for citizens to advocate for the passage of the 2014 Draft Land Rights Act (LRA) that was presented to the legislature by the President, and continues to remain in the legislative branch. 
 
If passed into law, the LRA will address some of the country’s major challenges in respect to the governance of land and natural resources.  The LRA proposes among others four progressive land rights categories including: Private Land, Public Land, Government Land and Customary Land. These categories will, for the first time, grant all Liberians, especially women and rural communities, the right and full ownership of their customary land. According to the CSO Working Group, the LRA set out procedures and mechanisms that will help eliminate poverty, remedy historical marginalization, strengthen the rights and economic power of all Liberians, and establish strong community rights over customary lands and natural resources. 

 
Civil society and key national and international actors in Liberia’s land reform process have expressed fear that if the LRA is not passed immediately, it will be delayed beyond the pending elections in 2017. In addition, there is also the risk of the bill being watered down, especially the key provision that grants customary land rights to the majority of Liberians living in rural areas.

At a closed door meeting with three representatives of the CSO working group, the President reaffirmed her commitment to support the passage of the LRA. Other key members of government in support of this bill include the Senate President and the President Tempore, Hon. Armah Z. Jallah, who also met with members of the working group to reassure them of the passage of the Bill in this current session. The CSO Working Group will work tirelessly to engage legislators and other stakeholders, until the LRA is passed into law. 

 
Liberians from the various counties and constituencies are particularly encouraged to engage their county law makers individually and collectively as the legislative process moves on. We call on all Liberians and our international partners to join us and apply pressure on our lawmakers to pass the LRA immediately; and to help address the numerous conflicts over land and natural resource governance; as this would pave the way for lasting peace in Liberia. 

The member organizations of the CSO Working Group include: Rights and Rice Foundation (RRF); Sustainable Development Institute (SDI); Foundation for community Initiative (FCI); Save my Future Foundation (SAMFU); Search for Common Ground (SFCG); National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL); Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY); Women NGO secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL); Association of Liberia Community Radio (ALICOR); Natural Resource Women Platform (NRWP); Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD); National Charcoal Union of Liberia (NACUL); Green Advocates (GA); Rural Human Rights Activist Program (RHRAP); PARLEY; Farmers Union Network (FUN) of Liberia; Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); Voice of the Voiceless (VOV); Liberia Reform Movement (LRM)

By James M. Yarsiah, Rights and Rice Foundation, Monrovia, Liberia.

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