The Importance of the Proposed Land Rights Act to Liberia’s Land Reform Agenda (Part I)

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A number of things are happening in Liberia, including policy and law reform aimed at driving the development agenda of the country.
One of such reform is the drafting of the Land Rights Bill by the Land Commission in 2014.

The Land Rights Bill was born out of the Land Rights Policy and seeks to put in place appropriate systems and requisite control measures for a more suitable way of acquiring land in Liberia..

The draft Land Rights Act establishes a very clear and requisite control mechanism for acquiring every portion of land in Liberia including a very well defined categories of land ownership which intends to ensure that land owners, including inhabitants of customary land owing rural communities have primary rights and options to determine the way their land are used and managed and by whom.

The proposed Land Rights Bill gives land ownership rights to rural communities as opposed to use or secondary rights. With ownership rights, communities will determine how their land will be used by investors or by any would- be- users in terms of land space, time of occupation, and benefits they may want for the use of their land.

The draft Land Rights Bill, when passed into law would create a very essential means of preventing land conflicts in Liberia and bring about peaceful coexistence between inhabitants of rural communities and users of their land including investors or businesses investing in the agriculture sector, which mostly occupied huge portions of customary land of communities.

The four Land Categories for Liberia
The draft Land Rights Bill calls for four exclusive categories of land ownership in Liberia.

It named the four distinct categories of ownership as Public Land Ownership, Government Land Ownership, Customary Land Ownership and Private Land Ownership.

The draft Bill indicates that Public Land is a land acquired by the government through purchase, escheat, confiscation, gift or otherwise, which is not presently used by government for its facilities and operations and is also neither Private Land nor Customary Land.

It describes Government Land as a land owned by government and used for its buildings, projects, or activities of the government, including but not limited to land on which are located: the offices of ministries, agencies, and parastatal bodies; military bases; roads; public schools and universities; public hospitals and clinics; public libraries and public museums; public utilities; and airports.

For Customary Land, the draft Land Rights Bill indicates that it is a portion of land owned by a community and used or managed in accordance with customary practices and norms, and which include, but is not limited to wetlands, communal forestlands, and fallow lands.

Community identification
In this regard, a community is self identifying coherent social groups comprising people of all ages, gender, beliefs, and other backgrounds who share common customs and traditions and reside in a particular land area over which members exercise jurisdiction communally by agreement, custom or law and manage their land in accordance with customary practices and norms.

A self-defined community may be a single village, town, clan, or chiefdom, or group of villages, towns, or clans whose members are citizens of Liberia, resident of said area or descendant of the community and has satisfied all requirements established by residents for being member of the community.

On the issue of Private Land, the proposed law mandates that Private Land is a land which is owned or otherwise held by private persons under the provisions of this Bill and other applicable laws in Liberia.

The Land Rights Bill also highlights among other things proper procedures for land purchase, transfer, use and management.

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