Land Commission to Record Tribal Certificates in 4 Counties

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    The Land Commission (LC) has commenced under the Tribal Certificate Inventory Project, an exercise to record, scan, and validate all tribal certificates that are available in Bong, Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Montserrado Counties.

    Tribal Certificates are documents signed by the tribal authorities and issued by the county land commissioner under the 1956 and 1973 Public Land Sale Laws, certifying the consent of the community to the sale or transfer of land in customary communities.

    The objectives of the tribal certificate inventory are:

    •  To gather information on the total number of tribal certificates issued over the years, and record the information in a database;
    • To analyze information generated that will enhance the Commission’s land administration policy and law formulation process; and
    • To strengthen national land rights records management and registration systems in rural areas through the inventory of all lands under tribal certificates.

    Two teams which have been hired and trained by the Land Commission will be responsible to record, scan and vet all tribal certificates that will be presented to them during the inventory exercise.

    During the inventory exercises, which will take place at designated sites within the four counties, tribal certificate holders will show their certificates to the inventory teams for recording and scanning before they are stamped with a unique number. 

    The inventory includes the following processes:

    1. Community members are asked to bring forth their tribal certificates, for recording and scanning after which the original copies are returned to the holders.  No document is taken from the public and retained by the inventory team.  There are NO fees charged for the exercise.
    2. The Recorder collects the Tribal Certificate from the Holder and assigns a unique serial number to the Tribal Certificate and stamps the Tribal Certificate.
    3. The Tribal Certificate Holder presents the certificate to the Scanner for scanning.
    4. A digital photograph of the owner holding the tribal certificate is taken, following the scanning of the documents.  Details on the tribal certificate and photo are imported to a data base that will be managed by the Land Commission.This will provide further evidence in the event of conflicting claims over a parcel of land.
    5. The Photographer collects the certificate from the Holder and records the information on a sheet.  Information to be collected include:  Owner’s name, parcel of land, location and serial number.  The Photographer ensures that the Land Commission receipt is attached to the Tribal certificate.
    6. The Vetter ensures that all documents attached to the Tribal Certificate are accurate (i.e. revenue receipt/Flag, receipt number, if available) and reflect the amount of acres contained on the Tribal Certificate.

    The Land Commission initiated the tribal certificate inventory as pilots in Fissebu Town, Gissima Clan, Lofa County in March 2012, and in Pleebo Sodoken District, Maryland County in May 2012.  A full-fledged inventory of tribal certificates was conducted in Margibi County between March and April 2013. 

    Liberians who participated in these inventory exercises are consistently asking questions about how they could gain access to and acquire land, particularly for income generating activities such as agriculture.  Gaining access to land involves a wide range of conditions including the issuance of tribal certificates, which constitutes the instrument for acquiring most lands under communal tenure for eventual titling.

    It is a common misconception in all communities that tribal certificates are legally equivalent to deeds.  They are not.  Even if a tribal certificate was issued in accordance with the applicable law at the time (and the Land Commission suspects that for various reasons many were not), a tribal certificate merely indicates permission from traditional authorities and the County Land Commissioner to begin the process for securing a public land sale deed. 

    Moreover, there is much legal uncertainty regarding the expiration date of tribal certificates.  In other words, it is an open question whether a tribal certificate expires after X number of years or months if a public land sale deed is not obtained.

    There is also a misconception of the amount of land being allocated by the tribal certificate.  Many people have no understanding of what an acre is.  An acre is equivalent to a “football pitch”.  While tribal certificates have been issued for 10, 50, 100, and more than 1,000 acres, there is little understanding of what a parcel of this size would look like on the ground or from the air or even on a map.  Thus, the amount of land specified on the tribal certificate in all likelihood does not correspond to the amount of land claimed by the individual on the ground.

    The Land Commission recognizes that Tribal Certificates are indeed the mechanism through which land is alienated from rural communities into private holdings. As such, and in light of the Land Rights Policy of the GOL, definitive measures must be taken to end the use of Tribal Certificates for purposes as described above and to identify and delineate areas being claimed on the basis of Tribal Certificates. This must be done before implementation of customary land rights based on the Land Rights Act, which was recently presented to the President by the Chairman of the Land Commission and subsequently submitted to the National Legislature. 

    The Land Commission is therefore undertaking a National Tribal Certificate Inventory exercise beginning with the four counties mentioned above, as the first of a three phase process – involving inventorying/validating, spatial and physical demarcating, and titling/registration – which will ultimately convert Tribal Certificates into deeds where applicable by law; thereby, ensuring access to land and security of tenure for all Liberians; particularly the many rural Liberians currently in possession of Tribal Certificates.

    The Tribal Certificate Inventory Project is being funded by the Government of Liberia and the Swedish Government with technical support from UN-HABITAT.

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