As the Land Commission is gearing up for its transition to the proposed Liberia Land Authority, the Chairman of the Commission recently met with the technical staff and urged them to strategically tackle key priority activities, including the Proposed Land Authority Bill, the Land Rights Act, the Land Administration policy among others, that are workable and achievable before the end of the Commission’s tenure.
According to Dr. Cecil T. O. Brandy, these priorities will focus on the completion and passage into law of the draft Liberia Land Authority Act, the passage into law of the Land Rights Act, and the finalization of the Land Administration Policy and the Land Dispute Resolution Policy.
Achieving these priority activities will serve as the engine and bedrock to accelerate the anticipated transition of the Land Commission into the Liberia Land Authority.
The Liberia Land Authority Act seeks to establish an independent body of Government with primary responsibility for land governance, including land administration and management and would be operationally independent and generally free in pursuit of its mandate.
Dr. Brandy affirmed that the passage into Law of the Liberia Land Authority Act by members of the National Legislature is crucial in the transitional process, and is aimed at giving hope and acknowledgement to the gains made by the Land Commission; therefore, much attention is needed to ensure that the Legislature fast-track the passage of the Act into law when it is submitted by the Executive.
The Commission is hopeful that when the Bill is passed into law, the works previously undertaken by it will be yielding fruits for the reform needed in the land sector of Liberia as a matter of continuation by the proposed Liberia Land Authority.
However, while it true that all attention is focused on the passage into law of the Liberia Land Authority Bill, it is equally important to remember some of the key instruments that the commission has produced, enacted into law and currently being used as a legal instrument that will set precedent to criminal transactions in the land sector. That instrument is the Act Against Criminal Conveyance of Land.
The Act was an effort of the Land Commission as part of its reform strategies to stabilize the growing criminal activities and conflicts within the land sector.
Criminal Conveyance means that anybody who knowingly, willfully or purposely transfer or deliver something such as a right or property to another person or persons or group of persons or an institution or institutions through dishonest means will face the full force of the Law.
The Act was signed by President Sirleaf on August 26, 2014 after it was passed by the both Houses on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 and Monday, September 3, 2014 respectively.
The Act Against Criminal Conveyance of Land, published into Handbills by authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is an amendment of Chapter 15 Subchapter B, Section 15.21 of the Penal Law of Liberia.
The Law says, a person is guilty of criminal conveyance of land, a felony of the second degree, if he/she conveys to another through sale, gift or mortgage and or lease, a parcel of land that he/she has no title to by purchase, gift or inheritance evidenced by a deed, traceable to the Republic of Liberia, from the lawful owner or by any other lawful means.
The Law also says that a person is guilty of third degree felony if he/she knowingly purchases a parcel of land which he/she knows or have reason to know does not belong to the seller or is being criminally conveyed.
A surveyor who encourages, persuades, surveys, uses his influence or in any other way participates or conspires with anyone in the sale or purchase of a parcel of land, knowing or being in the position to know that the seller of such land has no lawful title is guilty of a first degree felony punishable by both a fine to be determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, and a prison term of not less than ten (10) years.
Additionally, a surveyor who surveys a land without a notice to all adjoining property owners, consistent with existing law, regulation or executive order or procedure, is guilty of a felony of the third degree.
The Law further states that a district commissioner, land commissioner, city mayor, township commissioner, or any other local government official, or a person charged with the responsibility to archive land deeds and records, or traditional chief, elder, or any person holding a powerful traditional position, who abuses his/her authority to unduly influence or compel an individual or group of individuals to convey a parcel of land or any portion thereof, knowing or being in position to know that the land so conveyed belongs not to the person or persons conveying same or knowing or being in the position to know that without the use of such influence or compulsion a conveyance of said land is not possible is guilty of a felony of the second degree.
A legislator or a person holding a national level position such as minister, deputy minister, director general, deputy director general, any ranking officer of a law enforcement agency, or any other public official or law enforcement officer who abuses his/her office by influencing or compelling the conveyance of a parcel of land, knowing or having reason to know that without the use of such influence or compulsion a conveyance of said land is not possible is guilty of a second degree felony.
A person guilty of Criminal Conveyance of land maybe sentenced in the following manner:
a. A person guilty of a second degree felony shall be given a prison term of not more than five (5) years and made to restitute an amount equal to double the gain received from the criminal conveyance of land, for the first offense.
b. A person guilty of criminal conveyance for the second time shall be given a mandatory five (5) year prison term, the maximum prison term for a second degree felony and required to restitute the amount equal to double the gain received from the criminal conveyance of land. Any other repeated offence shall be punishable similarly, with not right of parole or probation.
c. A person guilty of a third degree felony under this law shall be punished by both a fine to be determined by court, the maximum which shall not be more than double the gain and a prison term of not more than three (3) years.
d. A surveyor guilty of a first degree felony under this law shall be punished both by a fine and a prison term of not less than ten (10) years and a permanent revocation of his license to practice as a surveyor.
e. The minimum length of a person guilty under this subchapter shall be imprisoned for is one (1) year for a third degree felony, three (3) years for a second degree felony and five (5) years for a first degree felony.
The good thing about this Law is that it excuses no one; whether you are big person in government or an ordinary man in the street, the Law will hold you accountable if you sell land to more than one person. Therefore, those who are criminally selling land, buyers and surveyors, please control yourself and avoid the double sale of land. And, let no one underestimate, downplay or forget this piece of law as it stands to set the right precedent on anyone, no matter your status and to break the criminal cartel in the land sector.