Monrovia – The Civil Society Working Group on Land Reform has intensified engagements with stakeholders aimed at ensuring the speedy passage of the draft land right act at the National Legislature. CSO is civil society organization.
The group is a coalition of CSOs working on community land rights in Liberia, and currently engaged with stakeholders on the passage of the Draft Land Rights Act.
As part of its engagements, the group presented a position statement to the National Legislature at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. It called on lawmakers to speedily pass the draft land act before their (lawmakers) agricultural break this year. The statement was presented to both houses.
Madam Florence M. Dorley-Konneh of the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of land, Forest and Fisheries (VGGT) Secretariat read the statement on behalf of the organization.
The group viewed that protecting customary lands is the most important component in the Draft Act. However, it pointed out that customary land, among other things, is new and therefore vulnerable to commercial interests and elite land grab.
According to the position statement, the group made comments and clarity as well recommendations under some provisions of the draft law. The group focuses on Customary Land, Public Land and Protected Areas; Sale of Customary Land; Definition of Forest Land; Women Land Rights; Land Authority/Management and Role of CSOs, among others.
On the customary, public and protected lands, the group statement warned that any attempt to designate areas without consultations and informed consent of the communities who are customary land rights holders may undermine the core values, principles, and legal protection on customary land as enshrined in the law. This point, the group said, is based on the history of land use and management in Liberia.
“Also, any process that would allow government officials to arbitrarily draw boundary lines on communities’ land will likely see a continuation of the high incidence of boundary conflicts that have recently characterized concession zones throughout the country,” the statement alarmed.
Touching on the sale of customary land, the CSO stressed the need to ensure the interest of future generations and that common areas on customary land are secured.
The group further mentioned the need for gender responsiveness in the draft act; adding that the phrase “irrespective of gender or marital status” be enshrined in all provisions of the draft act.
In areas where property is to be mortgaged, the group recommended that it be done with spousal consent where relevant.
On land authority, the CSO working group spoke of the need to set up a grievance mechanism, complaints process, or Ombudsman’s office.
The group then told lawmakers to mention CSOs as partners in order to broaden the participation of diverse stakeholders in the implementation of the Act.
In response, Representative Matenokay Tingba, Chairman of the House Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy and Environment, appreciated the group for the engagement. He recognized the importance of CSOs in the ongoing review of the draft act and reaffirmed the House’s commitment to always consider the voices of the Liberian people.
Rep. Tingba, on behalf of the committee, promised to take the CSO’s statement to his colleagues for deliberations, assuring the passage of the act before their agricultural break.
Speaking earlier, the head of the CSO Working Group, Mr. James Yarsiah of the Rights and Rice Foundation (RRF), said the group is an organization of 18 CSOs that are working to ensure a proper land reform in the country.
According to Yarsiah, Tuesday’s presentation was part of their ongoing engagements to ensure the participation of all sectors.
Other CSOs of the group include: Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Foundation for Community Initiative (FCI), Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU), Search for Common Ground (SFCG), National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL), Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), Association of Liberia Community Radio (ALICOR), Better Women for Tomorrow Development and Peace, National Charcoal Union of Liberia (NACUL), Sharp Home Care Services (SHOCAS), Farmers Union Network (FUN) Liberia, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Voice of the Voiceless (VOV) and Liberia Reform Movement (LRM), among others.