Retired Associate Justice Gladys Johnson, who also served as chairperson of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, has advised Liberian voters, especially women, not to re-elect any member of the 53rd Legislature during the upcoming 2017 presidential and legislative elections.
Justice Johnson said that the current batch of legislators, many of whom retained their seats during the 2011 elections, have failed the Liberian people.
She gave the advice recently when women under the banner of the “Natural Resources Women’s Platform” launched a report on the impact of Liberia’s large scale concessions on the rights of ordinary women
The research report, titled “Women: The Least Secure Tenure,” was launched recently in Monrovia at a ceremony that attracted local and international activists. The study was conducted by the Natural Resources Women’s Platform, the Alliance for Rural Democracy and Green
Advocates International, with support from US-based Rights and Resources Initiatives (RRI).
The report, which highlighted situations women face in large scale land concession areas, seeks to assess the impact these multinational concessions have on their tenure rights and as well as make recommendations to address the gaps and grievances of women in the aforementioned areas. It also looks at the nature of women’s tenure rights prior to and after the granting of concession rights to companies like Sime Darby, Golden Veroleum-Liberia (GVL), EJ & J Logging, Equatorial Palm Oil and Maryland Oil Palm Plantation. The purpose was to determine the changes the agreements have necessitated in those concession areas.
For instance in Sinoe, where the Liberian government leased community land to GVL, women there are claiming to have lost their rights to land and are left to struggle daily to survive.
Also at the gathering were women who claimed to have been affected by the operations of concession companies in the country.
Retired Justice Johnson added: “The next time you cast your votes for anyone vying for elective position, including senators and representatives, be careful not to mark the ballot papers for those that are currently in the positions because they were there when these surveys on land rights were happening.”
The report captured abuses allegedly perpetrated against women by multinational companies and the government. It also talked about the lack of development and the deplorable road networks in areas affected by these companies’ operations.
Johnson informed the women that the solution to their problems is in their hands, and that they should use it properly, and at the appropriate time during electioneering.
“Every day you sit and complain about your bad road conditions, where some pregnant women have died due to deplorable road networks, and also the lack of proper health facilities coupled with drinking from unsafe water sources,” Retired Justice Johnson said.
She urged the women to complain to the people they elected as their lawmakers, because they are the ones who approved the National Budget, some of which are apportioned for development, including the road networks.
“Don’t vote for the current lawmakers who were there when all these things happened to you. I am advising you, do not waste your vote on people who will not represent you properly,” she reiterated, as the women nodded in apparent approval.
She said if the lawmakers know that they have to work for the money they are paid in Parliament, they will have to work very hard for the people who elected (or employed) them.
“When you first elected them in 2011, they did not do anything for their respective districts until in the last minute when elections were getting closer. By 2017 they will all be in your villages, places they failed to visit since they were elected,” Johnson said.
She warned the women not to cast their votes for candidates because they are their family members or for individuals who will provide them bags of rice on the eve of elections.
“Please make sure you cast your vote for people who will look into your problem and find solutions for you. If you have a lawmaker who knows about how children have to walk for several hours to schools, they would advocate for transportation; and about how pregnant women are dying, would allot money for better health centers,” Justice Johnson told the women.
On behalf of their colleagues, the women representatives, including Maberlyn Chea, of Maryland County; Massa Turay of Grand Cape Mount County; and Soven Teah, Sinoe County, promised that they would take Justice Johnson’s admonition to their respective constituencies, and would ensure to do follow-up.
Madam Chea claimed to have suffered in the worst way when she tried to get some of her colleagues to speak up against the violation of their rights.
A number of the 53rd Legislature lawmakers the Daily Observer contacted via phone yesterday declined to comment on the issues raised by Madam Johnson.
However, Representative Garrison Yealue of Nimba Electoral District #4, who acknowledged that the Land Rights Act (LRA) is before the lawmakers, said they will be looking at the LRA “shortly after we return from our annual break by January 2017.”
He denied any knowledge of Liberia’s large scale concessions on lands owned by women and their natural resources rights as mentioned by retired Justice Johnson.