– Local Gov’t, Amendment to Constitution, Alien and Nationality Bills Soon?
Following years of open hearings, debates, committee reports, and conference committee work, the Senate at its 54th day sitting last Thursday, unanimously voted to concur with the House of Representatives on passage of the Land Rights Act.
The decision by Senate plenary 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 Senate plenary on the third version of the then proposed Land Rights Act of 2017, after receiving same for concurrence from the House of Representatives.
The committees were, however, requested to return to committee room for more in-depth consultations among senators and the general public for suggestions.
Some of the many crucial areas, such as Eligibility to Own Land or Rights in Land, has 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, thirty 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 twenty 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 Liberia Land Authority to the holders of Tribal Certificates, to enable them complete required steps.”
Chairman of the Senate committee on Lands, Mines and Energy, Senator George Tengbeh, briefed the press that his committee held consultations from a cross-section of the citizenry, including civil society organizations (CSOs), women’s groups and his colleague on Lands, Mines and Energy Vincent Willie for his committee’s final input.
Senator Tengbeh said the passage of the Act has now given the Land Authority teeth to bite, while at the same time he said that in land issue, one cannot go one hundred percent and clarified that, based on consultations with members of the House of Representatives, there will be no need for a conference committee.
The vice chairman at the LLA, Attorney J. Adams Manobah, described the day as a happy one for all Liberians, “because all the time we have spent fighting in this country to have equal rights to land has come to an end, which of course is the beginning of another one.”
Manobah said that the LLA’s budget will need an increment from its current appropriation, “but in the meantime, we will go with what is available.”
He claimed that the LLA’s operation is to a great extent being decentralized, and only needs to ensure that assigned authorities in the counties are effective and efficient.
The Commissioner for Land Use and Management at LLA, Madam Ellen O. Pratt, also informed reporters that one of the major constraints that needs to be handled is adequate budget and the challenge to carry out community awareness on the laws.
“Some of our major challenges will be for our personnel to help raise awareness and we will also consider staffing and budget constraints, because with the passage of this Act, now not only are we rendering these land services, we are going to be doing community demarcation, mapping and helping communities now to get advanced deeds in their names across the country,” Madam Pratt said.
The Land Rights Act (2014) was submitted to the Legislature by then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, which many consider to be a major step in resolving the issue of land conflicts in Liberia, and delineates the different categories of land ownership and rights in Liberia, discussing bundles of rights associated with each land category.
The Act itself recognizes four categories of land ownership, which are Government Land, Public Land, Customary Land, and Private Land.
The 53rd Legislature, despite reported frantic efforts for the possibility of an eventual passage before its annual break, failed to materialize.