The leadership of Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) yesterday, September 26, commended President George Weah for signing into law the landmark Land Rights Bill known as the “Land Rights Law of 2018” as well as the historical Local Government Act.
SDI at a press conference in Monrovia, said they strongly believed that these legislations will be on record as two of the most notable trans-formative milestone of the post-conflict era in promoting citizens’ participation in the decision-making process as well as positive development in Liberia’s quest for peace, reconciliation and sustainable development.
The group said the passage of the bill into law has made the country to finally confront an anomaly of the past and address one of the most contentious aspects of its conflict’s history, bringing succor to thousands of Liberians, especially those in rural communities.
SDI Coordinator Ms. Nora Bowier said the enormity of the potential impact of the Land Rights Law is underscored by the fact that before its passage into law, all lands in the country were either private land (deeded lands) or public land (land manage by the state).
“This means lands communities had lived on for decades would be granted to national or international concessions and private members are directly responsible for the management of their land and natural resources,” Ms. Bowier said.
She said the land law provides safeguards for women to participate in decision-making around community collective land, which is particularly significant for women, because they constitute 50 percent of the total population and 70 percent of those engaged in agriculture.
“The land law states that membership of the Community Land Development and Management Committee (CLMDC) shall consist of equal representation of the three stakeholders groups; men, women and youth. Except for chiefs of the community, who shall be ex-officio members of the CLMDC, the representative of the groups shall be democratically elected,” Ms. Bowier said.
She said with these rights, communities can now collectively protect their lands and forest, build social cohesion, invest in large scale farming, negotiate contracts with external actors and participate in other revenue generating activities using their land.
“Given the fact that land is a key resource in an agrarian society as Liberia and the suggestion that if there were ever going to be another conflict on the scale we had in the last three decades it would increase the tension associated with land, we believe the Land Rights Law has provided the prism through which we can reverse the past,” she highlighted.
Bowier said the law is part of the long process which is ongoing, indicating that the difficult task ahead is ensuring full and unfettered implementation of the law.
She said it is incumbent upon all stakeholders to ensure the successful application of the law.
“The government must demonstrate the political will to preserve the sanity and sanctity the law brings to the tenure regime; civil society must play its watchdog role and create awareness and monitoring, international partners must provide the needed support, especially for implementation and communities, and citizens must take advantage of the new opportunity to enhance their livelihood and preserve their land and natural resources,” Bowier said.
She said rural dwellers have historically been marginalized as they were largely denied the right to participate in large scale land use transitions or in the negotiation of concession agreements.
SDI believes that the granting of customary land rights to communities will introduce a chance from an exclusionary approach that had been used to govern the country’s land by giving power to community dwellers to own and manage their lands.