President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has established a National Taskforce to ensure that the public and unscrupulous individuals will not encroach on public lands, especially beachfronts, waterways and wetlands.
The establishment of the taskforce is contained in an Executive Order issued by President Sirleaf over the weekend. This is the 68th Executive Order issued by President.
President Sirleaf noted that despite guidelines and regulations which exist on the books to protect these public assets, those measures are not being enforced by the requisite agencies; consequently, people continue to encroach on these natural resources.
“The numerous un-sanitary encroachments and unwarranted uses of waterways and wetlands continue to increase environmental degradation in Liberia,” Executive Order No. 68 stressed. It added that urgent measures of sustainable environmental management and protection of these ecosystems need to be taken without delay and urgent interventions that may curtail time lapses leading to permanent loss or destruction are required.
The Taskforce comprises the Chairman of the Land Commission (Chair), Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (Co-chair), and the Ministers of Justice, Internal Affairs, Public Works, Lands, Mines and Energy and Information, Culture and Tourism as members.
Other members are the Inspector-General of the Liberia National Police and Local Municipal Authorities.
The Taskforce has been provided lengthy Terms of Reference (TOR) that entail everything that needs to be done to ensure that public properties are regulated efficiently for maximum productivity.
According to the President, the Taskforce is to provide technical and administrative support to the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) on Encroachments on wetlands, beach and river fronts; support offices and local authorities, including Township Commissioners.
This is to ensure that citizens and residents adhere and conform to prescribed and established policy and regulatory regimes for managing the use and conservation of wetlands, beach and riverfronts.
The taskforce is also mandated to report and document all violations and violators of established regulations, policies and laws; process violators for legal proceedings and actions and develop interim, immediate-to-long term policy and regulatory guidelines needed for the management of wetlands, beach and river fronts.
“They are also to develop and support the implementation of programs to sensitize and raise awareness for all residents and citizens about the economic potentials and environmental implications of wetlands, beach and river fronts,” a statement from the Executive Mansion said.
As they go about their duties, members of the taskforce are to also submit a quarterly report to the Inter-agency Committee outlining problems, challenges and achievements in the management of wetlands, beach and river fronts.
“They are to monitor all developments within and surrounding these established zones (distances) disallowed for un-approved developments; support and conduct assessments of potential uses of wetlands, beach and river fronts in conjunction and collaboration with relevant public and private entities; and perform other tasks as may be deemed necessary by the Inter-agency Committee,” the Executive Order also noted.
The Terms of Reference, according to President Sirleaf, may be altered and updated from time to time by an IAC to respond to the prevailing realities and conditions.
Providing justification for the issuance of the Order, President Sirleaf indicated that government had realized the extreme damaging effect that encroachment on these protected areas poses to the environment and the lives of citizens and residents.
She noted that Liberia signed the Ramsar Convention in 2003 as a commitment to join the campaign for the protection of wetlands and in recognition of the importance of ensuring the sustainable use of the ecosystem and maintaining the decency of beachfronts, waterways and wetlands. The GOL, through the Maritime Commission, initiated a project in 2013 to clean the beaches in and around Monrovia.
Meanwhile, Section 75 (1) of the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia empowers the Environmental Protection Agency, in consultation with the relevant line Ministries to make guidelines and prescribe measures for protection of rivers, lakes and wetlands.