Citizens Vote Out Lawmakers

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For not passing original version of Land Rights Act

Senators seeking re-election in 2020 need to take seriously the threats some chiefs and traditional leaders have issued for setting aside the version of the Land Rights Act passed by the House of Representatives and instead passing the original version of the law submitted to the Legislature in 2014.

Chiefs and traditional leaders under the National Traditional Council of Liberia (NTCL) recently threatened to vote out senators who will concur with lawmakers in the House to pass the Land Rights Act (LRA), which the members of the Lower House have already passed into law, but sent to the Senate for concurrence.

The Senate needs to act urgently on the chiefs’ request to avoid being booted out of the legislature, as it has been established that during the October 10 elections, community leaders – including youth and women groups, chiefs and traditional leaders – canvassed against lawmakers who supported the September 2017 passage of the Land Rights Act.

Chiefs and their subjects have undue influence, especially in rural areas. And so any attempt to take their threats lightly would result in serious and unfavorable consequences for members of the Senate according to Albert Sonkarley, a resident of District #2, rural  Montserrado County.

The chiefs’ influence, according to him, was exhibited on October 10, 2017 when they ensured that some lawmakers who publicly supported the passage of the Land Rights Act were not reelected.

Mary Garnett, 30, a resident of Todee, Lower Montserrado County said she did not cast her vote for any of the defeated representative candidates, because one of them allegedly helped to tamper with the Land Rights Act.

Mary disclosed that her decision was influenced by her aging father who, according to her, was robbed of his land, which was awarded to a concessionaire from the Todee area in neighboring Margibi County.

She said her father’s hope of securing his land after many years was dashed by the lawmakers’ decision to omit essential portions of the Land Rights Act that guaranteed communities rights to their lands.

In Todee District, there have been reports of alleged land grabs by some elites from Monrovia to make way for rubber farms, reportedly using their influence and reliance on support from government officials.

This alleged grabbing of customary land by Monrovia elites, who sometimes rely on tribal certificates obtained under dubious circumstances, is a critical factor undermining the rights of communities. The current version of the Land Rights Act passed by the House of Representatives recognizes thousands of tribal certificates obtained under ambiguous circumstances, despite pleas and protest from civil society organizations and other stakeholders against the trade.

“Our vote is the only power we have so we used it to voice our anger over the failure of our lawmakers to serve our interest,” said Mary.

Albert Sonkarley, a resident of Montserrado County District #2, said he and some residents did not vote for their former representative, because they believe he did not adequately represent the interest of the district with respect to the land issue.

Albert alleged that the former lawmaker failed to make good laws that would impact the lives of the people, “and so the people are still living in abject poverty.”

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