Liberia: Government, Development Partners Petitioned to Support Customary Land Formalization Process

In the petition read by Mrs. Loretha Pope Kai, the Chairperson of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, the citizens called on the government to prioritize and increase budgetary support and another financial resource to ensure the LLA is fully established and functional in the counties.

Monrovia – A group of Liberians comprising local officials, local and national civil society organizations have called on the Government of Liberia and international development partners for more support towards the full implementation of the Land Rights Act (LRA) of 2018, especially the customary land formalization efforts.

The group, comprising 139 people made the call in a set of recommendations derived and submitted to the government through the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) at the end of a two-day national learning and experience sharing conference on customary land formalization, a key component of the landmark Land Rights Act of 2018.

Under the law, communities can claim ownership of customary land by presenting evidence such as oral testimonies, maps, and signed agreements with neighbors.

However, there are several steps involved in customary land formalization process that must be completed before a community gets its deed, and in most cases, these steps are tedious and costly.

Some of these steps include community self-identification, participatory mapping, boundary harmonization and confirmatory survey, among others.

In the petition read by Mrs. Loretha Pope Kai, the Chairperson of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, the citizens called on the government to prioritize and increase budgetary support and other financial resource to ensure the LLA is fully established and functional in the counties to effectively and efficiently provide much needed services and support to communities and their civil society partners when pursuing customary land formalization.

When the LLA is fully funded, the group noted that the critical regulations dealing with community land governance, tribal certificate, boundary harmonization and confirmatory survey will be finalized and adopted by the LLA Board of Commissioners.

In addition, the group stated that a fully funded LLA, will among other things, ensure adequate awareness at all levels of government and across the country through sustained public awareness campaigns that involved making the Land Rights Law of 2018 available in accessible formats including jingles, radio dramas in simple English and local dialects, as well as the conduct of confirmatory surveys, along with mapping for communities that have benefited from customary land formalization support in timely and cost effective manner.

Mrs. Loretha Pope Kai, Chairperson of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia reading the petition on behalf of the group

The group, also in the petition called on civil society organization to apply the principle of do-no-harm in their engagement with communities, improve on their customary land formalization effort and make it more cost effective and efficient.

This, the group said, can be done through the establishment of temporary offices and assignment of competent facilitators in the communities they support for the entire duration of the project in order to be more accessible to the communities.

The group also called for the recruitment and training of more youth and women within the communities they support in order to accelerate knowledge transfer and awareness raising at the local level; as well as the use of simplified versions of the Land Rights law, in both audio and printed formats to accelerate awareness across the country.

Excerpt of the resolution: “[We] call on tribal leaders and traditional authorities to commit to upholding and respecting the provisions of the Land Rights Law on the land rights of women, youth, physically challenged and marginalized groups, and the ban on the issuance of tribal certificates.”

In addition, the group called for the direction of resources to strengthening the capacity of women to actively and meaningfully participate in land governance at all level, researching and analyzing gender issues and power dynamics within the land sector in order to deepen understanding, strengthen programing and delivery to improve the situation of women, youth, physically challenged and marginalized groups in the land sector.

Receiving the resolution, the Commissioner for Land Policy and Planning, Cllr. Kula Jackson pledged to convey the message to the LLA to engage government to ensure some of the request are met. He also assured the conference delegates of the validation of several of the draft regulations, standards, procedures and guidelines soon.

Since the passage of the law, civil society organizations with support from bilateral and multilateral agencies are supporting 82 communities, covering more than 1.3 million hectares of land in ten counties to formalize their land rights and secure deeds for their collective land. These combined efforts are benefiting more than 350,000 people directly and indirectly, according to officials.

Meanwhile, the conference, held at the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town was organized by the Liberia Land Authority in collaboration with the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) and Parley Liberia.

It brought together major stakeholders including county superintendents, district commissioners, paramount and clan chiefs, representatives of community land development management committees from several counties, land administrators from the LLA and the CSOs to share lessons learned from early efforts to implement the 2018 Land Rights Act.

Speaking to FrontPage Africa at the end of the conference on Friday, several participants lauded the organizers and said lessons learned will help in the successful completion of the customary land formalization process within their respective communities.

“I am so happy about the workshop and I just want to be grateful to them for all the new things we learned from here. The most important one is to self-identify my community,” said Mary Lateh, Paramount Chief of Jorquelleh Chiefdom in Bong County.

Madam Julia Russell, Commissioner from Lofa County added: “Today the workshop has made us to know that before claiming a land, you have to have a document. Our tribal people just used to sit and gave land out without knowing how much land they owned. But today, we learned that before giving land out, you should know how much land you have.”

For his part, Solomon T. Whion, Land Administrator of Sinoe County said: “One of the things I am taking from here is how to deal with tribal certificate. When it comes before me, I should investigate to know when it was given and who are those that signed it, whether they are living or not before acting upon it. We have to be careful now to avoid future controversy.”