House of Representatives Concurs with Senate
(Picture of the Legislature)
At long last, the Land Rights Act (LRA) was passed by the 54th Legislature with the concurrence of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 4, during the 54th day sitting of the lawmakers.
The House’s concurrence on Tuesday followed years of open hearings, debates, committee reports, and conference committees at work.
The unanimous decision by full plenary of the House of Representatives follows a submission of the final report of the Bill by the Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources and Environment, and the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petitions, claiming that clarity has been made on all crucial areas within the original Act.
The same joint committee in August, 2017, submitted a report to plenary of the Lower House on the third version of the then proposed Land Rights Act of 2017, after receiving same for concurrence from the Senate.
The committees were, however, requested to return to committee room for more in-depth consultations among senators, and the general public for suggestions.
However, after passage of different version by each house, a Conference Committee was formed to debates on some of the many crucial areas, such as Eligibility to Own Land or Rights in Land.
That aspect has also been amended to read that, “non-citizen missionary, educational, and other benevolent institutions shall have the right to own property as long as such property is used for the purpose acquired; title to the property shall revert to the original owners of the land after a determination is made of the non-use of the property by the Liberia Land Authority (LLA).”
Another area of concern, Demarcation of Customary Land, has been amended from its original version which reads that, “depending on the amount of available Customary Land, 30 percent of Customary Land shall be set aside in each community, and allocated as Public Land during nation-wide Confirmatory Survey of Customary Land.”
The amended version now reads thus: “Depending on the amount of available Customary Land, during the Confirmatory Survey, a minimum of 20 percent of Customary Land in each Community, shall be set aside and allocated as Public Land.”
The amended version to Tribal Certificate within a Customary Land now stipulates that, “holder of a Tribal Certificate issued prior to the effective date of this Act for which a Public Land Sale Deed was obtained is granted a maximum of 24 months to finalize, and complete all the steps necessary to obtain a Public Land Sale Deed with appropriate, and sufficient notification from LLA to the holders of Tribal Certificates to enable them complete required steps.”
It can be recalled that UNMIL, the Governance Commission, and the Global Witness, which have been urging the Legislature to pass the Land Rights Act.
Global Witness calls upon the Liberian legislature to pass a Land Right Act that protects the land rights of rural inhabitants, and reject any versions of the LRA that strip rights from these communities.
Jonathan Gant, Global Witness campaigner said: “The LRA, if passed, should recognize that communities own their land and ensure local communities – and only local communities – have the power to say where their lands are, and how they should be managed.”
Global Witness believes that any Act that does not protect the ownership and management rights of rural landowners should be rejected by the legislature. If the legislature passes a law that does not protect these rights, the law should be vetoed by the President.
The LRA is one of the most important laws the Liberian government could pass.
Approximately 70 per cent of Liberia’s population – 3.3 million people – live in rural areas, and own the land upon which they depend under systems of customary laws that are based on collective ownership. However, for generations the government has failed to recognize this ownership, treating rural people as squatters rather than landowners, and allocating immense natural resource contracts on their land.
During the country’s lengthy civil war, this included logging contracts, allowing companies to strip the peoples’ forests and abuse local populations. Following the war, the government awarded contracts covering some 20 per cent of the country, including a large palm oil plantation to foreign investments, which resulted in community protests.
The LRA could change this by formally recognizing that rural communities own their land under customary law. In doing so, the Act could give communities legal standing to consent to awarding new contracts, empowering them to make decisions about how their land should be used. The Act would also help people living in existing concessions, strengthen their bargaining position.
The LRA could serve as a way for communities to improve their lives, allowing them to use land as a means of obtaining credit with a legally recognized asset as collateral.