There are growing indications that the four year-old Land Rights Act (2014) will finally be passed by the senate, and sooner than expected, a source in the Senate Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy, Environment and Natural Resources has told the Daily Observer.
According to the new senate arrangement, debates on some of the very crucial and delayed bills will now be held exclusively on Thursdays, while Tuesdays will be reserved for other legislation and confirmation hearings.
The Land Rights Act (2014) was submitted to members of the legislature by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, which marked a very major step in resolving the country’s land conflicts; delineates the different categories of land ownership and rights by discussing the bundles of rights associated with each land category.
The proposed Act itself recognizes Government Land, Public Land, Customary Land and Private Land.
Under the Private Land category, the ownership of private land shall become extinct by abandonment and the land to government if the owner fails to pay all taxes on the land for a continuous period of 10 years or the land has not been occupied, developed or used by the owner for a period of 10 years.
The same private land category provides that land may be acquired by many means, including adverse possession, when the occupant remains in possession without objection for a continuous period of 15 years. (In current statute it is 20 years).
The proposed Act states that a private landowner may lose his title on account of loss of his Liberian citizenship; in that case, the government will take ownership of the land when there are no surviving heirs or spouses. In this case, he shall be entitled to a just compensation from the government or lease of the land from the government.
Under the Customary Land, a community’s ownership of land includes the ownership and rights to use an alienate, by any means, all non-mineral resources on the land such as forests. However, mineral resources are excluded.
The proposed Act also stipulates that under the Customary Land, all concessions, contracts, permits and licenses issued on such land prior to the effective date shall remain enforceable in keeping with their existing terms and conditions.
“For concessions and other contracts and licenses issued after the effective date, including mineral concessions, each community hosting said concession, in addition to other benefits, will receive a minimum of five percent free-carried undiluted interest at all times, of the rights in the concession, license, permit or other encumbrance,” the proposed Act noted.
Through an Act of the Legislature, according to the proposed Act, the government shall establish a small and efficient semi-autonomous agency, to be named and styled Customary Land Support Office, to assist traditional communities in the development of their Customary Lands.
Following the passage of the Bill by the House of Representatives, the Bill was sent to the senate for concurrence. The Senate plenary sent same to the joint Committees on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources and Environment then chaired by now Senate Protempore Albert T. Chie, and Judiciary, Claims, Human Rights and Petitions committee, chaired by Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman.
The Joint Committee in its final report to plenary in August 2017, told senators that it had consulted experienced international experts in land matters during public hearings and in committee room, and that major interactions were held with citizens through civil society groups, Female Lawyers, Liberian Bar Association, Council of Elders of Grand Gedeh County, experts, the general public, and community leaders.
On the question of why the senators, including some members of the joint committee, did not vote for immediate passage of the Bill, Senator Chie said the main intent of that sitting was to have an open debate, “and everyone participated and concerns and amendments suggested will now be included in the committee’s final report, which we are confident will be passed by this 53rd Legislature; we are not doing this to help any individual or institution to leave a good legacy as perceived by some people.”
The new chair on Lands and Mines Lofa County Senator George Tamba Tengbeh was not available for comment when contacted yesterday; but other members of that committee are optimistic of a marathon Thursday’s debate to be followed by passage of the Bill.