Monrovia – Traditional chiefs from several towns and villages across the country have threatened to canvass against the re-election of members of the Senate, if they concur with the House of Representatives to pass the version of the Land Rights Act (LRA), recently passed by the lower house.
The Plenary of the House of Representatives in August of 2017 voted and passed into law the Land Rights Act and submitted it to the Senate for concurrence.
However, many chiefs from towns in Grand Cape Mount, River Cess, Margibi and Bomi counties said the version of the Act passed by the House of Representatives is completely different from what was agreed to by chiefs, traditional leaders, civil society, government representatives, law makers and the cabinet of Liberia at a National Conference called by the President in 2013 to validate the Land Rights Policy which was translated into a draft law and presented to the Legislature in 2014.
The chiefs argued that “Since policy can easily be changed by politicians,” the draft Land Right Act submitted to the Legislature in 2014 for passage into law was basically converted from the 2013 Land Rights Policy.
The traditional chiefs, some of whom are town chiefs and elders of their towns and villages made the statement when they petitioned the Senate over the weekend.
They converged at the Legislature under the auspices of the National Traditional Council of Liberia which was represented by Wordorwor Gaye-Tuahn , Chief Zoe of the Liberia and Bob Kofi Zar, Speaker of the Council.
“We are aware that policy is not as strong as the law. Politicians can easily change policy or refuse to implement it. For this reason, we all agreed to make the Land Rights Policy strong by making it a law,” the chiefs’ petition which was submitted to Senate Pro Tempore Amah Zolu Jallah asserted.
The chiefs disclosed that the Land Rights Policy was endorsed by traditional leaders, NGOS, company representatives, government officials, legislatures, commissioners and superintendents from the 15 counties during a 2013 meeting at the Centennial Pavilion on Ashmun Street, Monrovia, attended by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and other government officials.
They told Senate Pro-temp Jallah at the petition ceremony which attracted other senators including Thomas Grupee of Nimba County, Senate Chair on Internal Affairs and Milton Teahjay of Sinoe County that the Plenary of the House of Representatives hurriedly passed the law last August following almost three years since it was submitted to the legislature without consulting anyone.
The chiefs explained that, disappointingly, the lawmakers removed significant portions of the Land Right Policy which provided protection for rural and poor communities.
“We are very disappointed to hear that the House of Representatives spoiled the law that we gave them,” he said.
Flanked by Liberia’s Chief Zoe, Wordorwor Gaye-Tuahn, spokesman of the National Traditional Council, Bob Kofi Zar and accompanied by a team from Green Advocates International (GAI), the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) and the Natural Resource Women Platform (NRWP), the chiefs said some members of the House of Representatives lost their job and will not return to the Capitol because “we told our people not to vote for them.”
Liberia’s Chief Zoe Gaye-Tuahn and Spokesman, Bob Kofi Zar represented the National Traditional Council Chairman Zanzan Karwah.
The petition noted” “We have come to bring the 2014 law back to you. This is the law that we want”.
“Please sign this one. This is the law that we gave to you in 2014. Please don’t sign the bad law that the Lower House passed in August 2017 without consulting us.
Those who played with our land business, we took their job from them.”
“We are watching you too. If you do what the other people did, we will go to your counties and tell your people not to vote for you too”, the petition emphasized.
Presenting the petition to Senator Jallah, Chief Zar reiterated that the Land Rights Act was tampered with by the House of Representatives and pleaded with the Senate not to concur with the lower House.
He said the chiefs’ appeal for the Senate to vote on and pass the original 2014 version of the Land Rights Act was in the interest of every Liberian including individual senators, whom he considered their children.
“The 2014 Act is good for every Liberian. You are also included because we consider you to be our children”, he said.
Accepting the Chiefs’ petition, Senate Pro Tempore Jallah lauded the chiefs for the manner in which they conducted themselves and promised that their concerns would be adequately addressed.
Speaking to journalists following the petition ceremony, which attracted other Senators including Thomas Grupee of Nimba County and Milton Teahjay of Sinoe, Hon. Jallah said the Senate is carefully handling the passage of the bill because, according to him, it is a controversial issue.
Senator Grupee, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Internal Affairs, Reconciliation and Governance made reference to land related conflicts in Nimba and other parts of Liberia and emphasized that the matter is crucial to the sustainability of peace in the country.
Speaking on the chiefs’ threats to vote against law makers including Senators who do not support the 2014 version of the Land rights Act, , Senator Grupee acknowledged that it is the right of citizens to canvass against senators who don’t champion their people’s cause.
He was also particularly grateful for the additional documents shared with the Pro-Tempore by the team from Green Advocates, the Alliance for Rural Democracy and the Natural Resources Women Platform, analysing the House of Representatives-approved version of the LRA and the original 2014 LRA, including the opportunities and challenges in both documents.
“If we are having this kind of analytical document from citizens, then this would have made our work much easier. We can easily see their idea for next steps”, he concluded.
In late October 2017, Green Advocates International (GAI) began receiving traditional leaders and chiefs from across Liberia requesting a meeting with members of the Liberian Senate.
They informed Green Advocates that while there are many issues facing our country including the pending elections, which they are deeply concerned about, the primary purpose of the meeting was to express the concern they have with the version of the Land Rights Act (LRA) approved by the House of Representatives in August 2017.
Green Advocates International (GAI) then facilitated the meeting between the Senators and the traditional chiefs.
GAI is a Liberian-based non-profit, public interest law, environmental and human rights organization working to advance a wide range of rights-based issues through legal aid, consultation and support for victims of environmental and human rights violations, the drafting and enactment of appropriate policies and legislations on good governance as well as assistance in the strengthening and enforcement of existing environmental and human rights standards.
GAI made the request for the chiefs on behalf of her two partner organizations, the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) and the Natural Resource Women Platform (NRWP).
ARD is a network of community based organizations as well as pro-poor enterprising informal sector organizations from across Liberia working in solidarity actions to address environmental and human rights violations facing its members.
The Natural Resources women Platform is the largest network of women from rural communities as well as urban slums and squatter communities depending on and working on the issues of land, natural resources and the economic, social and cultural rights of women in Liberia.
The women Platform works with both rural and urban women in Liberia to highlight challenges they face and then design strategies to engage relevant stakeholders in addressing concerns about women rights in the country. Together, ARD and NRWP have been amplifying the voices of local communities in Liberia, including women, youth, chiefs, etc.