USAID (United States Aid for International Development)’s Deputy office director for Democracy and Governance yesterday told a gathering of stakeholders in the land sector that President George Weah’s “pro-poor agenda” should focus on raising citizens’ standard of living.
Madam April O’Neil suggested that land reform should be prominently featured into the pro-poor planning strategies.
O’Neil said because the donor community is eager to address Liberia’s development challenges such as land, which is at the top of the list for many people, the agenda’s planning should reflect issues related to land reform.
“America is committed to standing with Liberia and supporting the country’s goals in development, prosperity, peace and democracy,” Madam O’Neil assured her audience.
O’Neil made the statement at the launch of the USAID-Land Governance Support Activity (LGSA), Land Rights Study and the Gender Unit of Liberia Land Authority (LLA).
The study explored six primary thematic topics that included women’s land rights and participation in land governance, land tenure system, marriage and de-facto unions, inheritance, land governance, access to justice and dispute resolution and concessions.
While the Land Rights Bill is yet to be passed into law by the legislators since 2014, O’Neil believes that the launch yesterday would serve as a blueprint for ensuring the equitable distribution and management of land, and would create the infrastructure to oversee its implementation.
O’Neil added, “This is no small task, and must therefore be implemented through the Pro-poor agenda.”
She said that the mainstreaming of gender issues in key laws, policies, regulations and strategies would result into the implementation of an effective land governance system that will work for the country.
O’Neil said that for the past two years, LGSA had worked with the then Land Commission (now Liberia Land Authority — LLA), by conducting needed analysis that laid the groundwork for the country to develop and operate an effective and equitable land governance system.
The USAID official said the creation of the Gender Unit at the LLA was one important milestone in the process of land governance system.
“LGSA is excited to work hand-in-hand with the Gender Unit on a wide range of activities, which we are preparing to work with and in several communities in Bong, Lofa and Nimba counties,” O’Neil said.
She noted that pilot programs in these counties will empower community members, especially women, to improve local governance of their land and hold their government and legislative representatives accountable for implementation of the land right policy and the Liberia land Authority Act.
O’ Neil said USAID was working with the LLA to develop and implement regulations aimed at professionalizing the land sector, to include the development of a certificate program for surveyors.
“We are working to attract the most qualified and ethical candidates to help usher in a new generation of surveyors; therefore, we are going to place a special emphasis on recruiting qualified female candidates, who can help modernize and diversify this vital profession,” O’Neil said.
Dr. Cecil T.O. Brandy, LLA chair, mobilized his audience to engage their respective lawmakers to have the controversial land rights bill passed without any pre-condition.
“It is your right to own the land and to know how a concession agreement of your land is signed, and the benefit you are to get from that agreement,” Dr. Brandy said.
He informed those in the audience that they are the users of the land, “and so, it is your inheritance and you have to fight hard for the passage of this bill, because it will benefit you and your unborn generation. Therefore, do not let anybody deny you of its benefit,” Brandy said.
He challenged them to pressurize their lawmakers to pass the bill, and with a sense of urgency.
River Cess County District#1 Representative Rosana Schaack assured the audience of her commitment to lobby with other lawmakers, to see the need for the passage of the bill.
Schaack also assured the audience of her promise and commitment to the passage of other bills, especially those with controversial issues.
“I am going to look at the one with women issues, to ensure that the bills are passed,” Rep. Schaack, also chair of the Women Legislative Caucus, assured.