Monrovia – The Civil Society Working Group on Land Rights Reforms has expressed its dismay over the exclusion of CSOs and Liberians from the legislative consultative forum over the Land Rights Act between the Liberian Land Authority (LLA), lawmakers and other stakeholders.
In a press statement issued on Tuesday, August 2, the CSOs Working Group intimated that their exclusion from the ongoing consultative forum lacks transparency and called on the 53rd Legislature to protect the integrity of the Land Rights Act, particularly to guide against key provisions of the act including tribal certificate, management of customary land and customary land and protected area, terming them as conflict prone intrusions.
“However, since the last public hearing on May 22, 2017, and with the establishment of a legislative consultative forum between the Liberian Land Authority, lawmakers and an unknown number of stakeholders at the exclusion of CSOs and citizens, the Civil Society Working Group has observed with dismay the lack of transparency and may raise ethical issues, such as conflicts of interest, and exclusion of citizens’ participation in these final revisions,” the CSOs Working Group said.
The group noted that if the work of the legislation is shrouded in secrecy and hidden from the public, it erodes the confidence of the public in the law.
On tribal certificates, the CSO Working Group asserted that it strongly protests any blanket legitimization of tribal certificates, adding that while it realizes that the issue of tribal certification deserves more dialogues and consultations with stakeholders, particularly local community, it would suggest adding more opportunity for communities to self-identify and set up a land management committee before formalizing tribal certificates.
The group noted that this will help establish a transparent and participatory decision-making process.
“A vetting process for tribal certificate needs to be clearly outlined or the Act could authorize the LLA, working along with Civil Society Organizations to outline a vetting process by which tribal certificate can be processed and formalized, taking into account other factors within a community, e.g. the size, demarcation, and length of time that land can be developed, etc.” it stated.
The group further expressed fear that if all tribal certificates are automatically recognized as legal documentation for land, this will severely undermine private tenure rights and customary land rights of communities, noting that this is because currently there is no inventory of how many tribal certificates exist and how much land are under tribal certificates.
It further added that when this happens, it is possible that there may be little or no land left that could be granted as customary land to rural communities.
Similarly, the group noted that any attempt to place customary land under the management of central government will be undermining not only the right of communities, but the principles of the land rights policy and the land reform process in general.
It avowed that communities throughout Liberia will strongly resist any attempts to place customary land under the management of lawmakers or other national government actors.
Additionally, the CSOs Working Group also noted that any attempt to make protected areas as a category of land rights or as part of government land would fundamentally undermine the spirit and intent of the Land Rights Policy and the Land Rights Act and warned of possible repercussions if these recommendations are not adhered to.
The CSOs Working Group on Land Rights Reforms, in collaborations with the National Civil Society Council of Liberia has been actively advocating land reform in particular the protection of customary land rights since 2009.