Gerald D. Yeakula, Program Manager for Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), says corruption in land administration hampers development and undercuts efforts geared towards poverty reduction.
Mr. Yeakula made the disclosure Thursday at CENTAL’s offices in Monrovia during the launch of a report titled “Land and Corruption in Africa,” in partnership with the Transparency International (TI) Secretariat, which is implemented in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Zambia.
In Liberia, he said, land administration is fraught with multifaceted malpractices that are driven primarily by endemic corruption.
“We wish to emphasize that land reform discussions must include a strong anti-corruption regime that is rigid on prosecuting those involved with malpractices in the sector,” Mr. Yeakula said.
According to him, the objective of the project was to determine the prevailing issues that continue to undermine the creation of a well-insulated and equitable land regime that seeks to adequately address land governance administration in Liberia.
He said it is unfortunate that land administration in Liberia has been unable to fully protect the rights of all citizens, particularly customary landholders.
“Land tenure rights is not clearly defined and continues to disadvantage land holders and potential owners. The way the law is structured tends to highly favor powerful and privileged individuals and disadvantages the poor and marginalized populations. The report attempts to flag some of the contentious issues involving land governance and proffers recommendations to address them effectively,” he said.
According to him, land matters in Liberia are critical and must occupy a special place in every Liberian’s heart.
“A stronger law that protects everyone’s rights is certainly crucial for our socio-economic and political well-being and national advancement. It must become an imperative for this current administration to work assiduously towards having a rigid land rights law that commits all actors to its full implementation, while at the same time instituting reforms to address anomalies in the land sector,” he said.
Mr. Yeakula said CENTAL hopes that following the release of this report concrete steps will be taken to formulate laws that provide protection for all citizens, particularly rural women, youths and other marginalized persons.
He continued, “Land administration regime must capture stipulations that address in a comprehensive way redress mechanisms for cross cutting grievances for all including especially marginalized and disadvantaged persons. Land administration and governance must be about human rights and not just one of those issues that are treated in a phlegmatic manner.”
Mr. Yeakula added, “We are convinced that a land regime that seeks to prioritize the economic and social needs of citizens will without doubt address repercussions of sensitive political nature and prevent conflict in the future. It is our hope that this report will enhance existing land research by providing empirical data around gray areas related to land governance in Liberia.”
Findings also revealed that fake deeds have become common in the Liberian land market, thereby placing land buyers entrusting third parties with their title acquirement process at huge risk. Certified copies of deeds, which are obtained when original deeds are missing, account for most of the fake deeds in circulation.
The findings highlighted that only 21% of respondents own the land they use, a disturbing finding which indicates that a significant majority of citizens do not own land.
A survey has shown that only 4% of youths own land, even though they constitute the lion’s share of the population. Of the 32% who believed that their land can be taken away, 38% cited private investors as the main agents of land-grabbing.
Only 31% of women in rural settings have their names written on land title documents, although generally 61% of women consider their land secure as compared to 57% of men.
9.8% of respondents reported that they have been asked for bribes in relation to land services, with majority pointing fingers to community and traditional leaders.
An average of 68% prefer obtaining land information from community leaders, while 41.8% of men stated that lawyers could provide the needed information as opposed to 30.4% of women. With only 21.9% of men and 10.4% of women indicating they would request land information from public institutions, the relevance of public institutions to inform the public about land matters may well be minimal.
Smallholder farmers are unable to access loans from commercial banks due to a lack of title to land they possess under customary tenure.