Land Quagmire Far from Over

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Land problems in Liberia seem to be far from over.  Instead, land issues are becoming entrenched and perpetual despite the Land Commission being in existence for more than five years. 

The Land Commission was established by the government and its partners to help resolve the numerous problems associated with the acquisition, ownership and governance of land in the country.

These problems outlined in its mandate became increasingly overwhelming for the Commission as its tenure gradually elapsed.

As a result the government, through President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has thought it wise to extend, by a year, the tenure of Commission in an effort to provide ample time for it to carry out and complete its terms of reference (TOR).

According to Executive Order 66, during this period of the extension, the Land Commission shall carry out its mandate, functions and duties, including the exercise of all rights and privileges that were afforded it under the Land Commission Act of A.D. 2009.

The Commission was established by an Act of the Legislature on August 9, 2009, and charged with the mandate to propose, advocate and coordinate land policy, laws and programs in Liberia. The Commission, which had five-year tenure as prescribed by the Act, officially began operation in March, 2010.

The extension, though not spelled out in a statement from the Executive Mansion, clearly indicates that the mandate of the Land Commission seems to be far from completed. The extension was contained in Executive Order No. 66 extending the tenure of the Land Commission by one additional year ending January 9, 2016. 

The Executive Order, signed by President Sirleaf on January 7,  further states that during the period of the extension, the Commission will work along with other Government agencies to complete draft legislation and activities to facilitate the transition into a new land agency.

It may be recalled the Land Commission of Liberia completed the nation's first land rights policy, after consultation with and endorsement by all Liberian constituencies in 2013.

The policy was consequently presented to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the conclusion of a two-day National Validation Conference convened by the Land Commission of Liberia in Monrovia on 21 May 2013. UN-Habitat has been supporting the work of the Land Commission since its inception in 2009.

President Sirleaf termed the policy as a major milestone in creating a more inclusive country where all Liberians are assured of their rights to own and enjoy the benefits of land.

Executive Order No. 66 disclosed that a bill is being proposed by the Executive for Legislative consideration that would separate the land functions from several ministries and agencies and establish an agency with a focus on land, which will require a transitional period for the Commission and other agencies of Government to plan and undertake activities leading to the establishment and operational readiness of a new land agency.

The Liberian leader indicated that current issues surrounding land governance, including administration and management, still pose serious challenges to ensuring equal access, security of tenure, and the rule of law regarding land transactions within the country.

She further stressed that government recognizes the extent and seriousness of these land tenure issues, which require a move towards a more equitable system of land rights; a more modern and re-organized land administration system; and the development of the requisite capacity to evolve such a system.

Since its establishment, the Land Commission has made significant progress in fulfilling its key mandate to undertake necessary policy and law reforms. With the exception of the formulation and adoption of the National Land Policy, which is before the Legislature for enactment, the Commission has also formulated a draft Land Administration Policy, which among several recommendations, will declare Government’s intention to establish a dedicated land agency; and develop policies and draft  laws for Urban Land Use and Land Dispute Resolution, among others.

In a related development, President Sirleaf has issued Executive Order No. 67 extending the moratorium on public land sales and all transactions, including the issuance of Tribal Certificates and Town Lot Certificates issued by Executive Order No. 53 on December 20, 2013. The moratorium is effective for a period of one year.

She noted that because continuation of public land sales under the current procedures, as outlined in the Public Land Laws of 1973, will exacerbate problems of unequal access, insecurity of tenure and the rule of law in public land transaction, it is imperative that a moratorium be placed on the sale of public land to allow for new land laws, regulations and procedures to be formulated.

The moratorium applies to all individuals, government functionaries, local officials, traditional authorities, communities, groups, businesses and associations involved in public land transactions.

The Executive Order states that this moratorium also applies to all activities involving the issuance of Tribal Certificates by traditional or other governmental authorities or the issuance of Town Lot Certificates by municipal authorities; that relevant government ministries and agencies shall be responsible to monitor closely the situation to ensure compliance; and that all Tribal Certificates or Town Lot Certificates issued by any local authority during the period of this moratorium shall be considered illegal and void.

She constituted a nine-member screening committee to vet all Public Land Deeds in the country and work in accordance with the Interim Guides and Procedures for the sale of Public Land (2011) as recommended for the Land Commission.

Members of the committee are: Chairperson of the Land Commission (chair); Ministers of Justice, Internal Affairs, Public Works, Agriculture, and the Lands, Mines and Energy.

Others are the Chairman of the National Investment Commission, Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority and the Executive Director of the Environment Protection Agency.

Executive Order No. 67 further specifies that current issues surrounding the sale of public land pose serious challenges to ensuring equal access, security of tenure and the rule of law with regards to public land transaction.

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