Enacting the Land Rights Bill, which has been severely altered against the interest of poor forest dwellers would no doubt undermine Liberia’s peace, security, economic development, the Civil Society Organizations Working Group on Land Rights Reform cautioned President George Weah and the Senate Wednesday in the capital Monrovia.
The 53rd House of Representatives approved the bill in August 2017 and is now before the Senate for concurrence and passage into law.
In a press conference on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 the group said while they welcome the President comments and commitment to land reform in Liberia especially customary land rights, they want him and the senate to be guided by good conscience, equity and justices in supporting a pro-poor bill, that will protect community land rights.
“ The version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives in August 2017 severely and unduly undermines the land rights of ordinary Liberians and community residents, most especially the vast majority of the population who inhibits rural Liberia,” Lena Cummings chair of the Women Land Rights taskforce said in a statement read to reporters.
According to them, the outstanding shortfalls of the bill range from contradictions, to omissions of important sub-articles thus substantially weakening the security of customary land ownership, to insertion of new provisions which directly contradict the spirit of the broader National Land Rights Policy, corruption and the Constitution of the country.
On the issue of increase corruption by validating Tribal Certificates, the group said provisions of the bill would legitimize and validate Tribal Certificates and various other pre-existing property documents without safeguards against bad faith transactions, fraud, historical procedural impropriety, or inaccuracy in the original survey processes.
These provisions would open the door to widespread corruption and large-scale privatization of customary land without genuine or inclusive consent of the community owners, the CSOs said.
The current undeveloped lands under tribal certificates automatically grants over 50% of all undeveloped land s under tribal certificates to holders of tribal certificates, even though the total number of tribal certificates in the country is not known, and the total
Unconstitutional expropriation of 30% of Public Land: the bill provides for the expropriation of 30% of Customary Land by the government from communities by conversion to public land without due process or justification.
“Taking land without the consent of Liberian land owners living on and earning their livelihoods from that land, and without payment of compensation is likely unconstitutional.”
Damage done to local economic by failing to recognize women’s land rights: the bill does not adequately protect women’s land rights. It undermines women land rights when it requires 15 years for qualification or residence and the provision of establishment of land governing association in such a way that there is limited participation for women.
Increase conflict by failing to recognize the rights of Liberian communities to free prior informed consent (FPIC) to all concessions and investment on their land.
According to the group, these irregularities will provide additional seedbed to escalate tensions between private, state and communities on a scale than has thus far been the case in Liberia.
“As a group, we will be deploying diverse approaches towards engaging the stakeholders. In the weeks to come, we will be reaching out to communities and residents in all the political sub divisions of the country to ensure that the voices of the rural people are heard in this process.”
Writes P. Nas Mulbah