Liberia’s Legislature Finally Passes Land Rights Act

Members of Civil Society Working Group on the Land Rights Act addressing a press conference recently in Monrovia

Monrovia – The House of Representatives has concurred with the Liberian Senate to finally pass the Land Rights Bill (LRA) into law four years after it was introduced at the Legislature.

Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]

The decision was reached by the Plenary of the House on Tuesday, September 4 based on the recommendations by the Committees on Land, Mines, Energy, Natural Resource and Environment; Judiciary, Human Rights, and Claims and Petition.

The Joint Committee stated that following a thorough review of the act passed by the Senate in August 2018 it was prudent for the House to pass the draft Land Rights Act into Law.

Before the passage of the LRA by the Senate, series of amendments were made to the version that had earlier been passed by the House of Representatives in 2017.

The document will now be sent to President George Weah for signature and printed into handbill by the Ministry of Foreign. According to law, the President has 20 days to reject or approve the bill otherwise it automatically becomes law.

The current Liberian laws classified lands for which there is no deed as public land; and because of this, Rights groups have blamed the system for giving the government the exclusive rights to give out a large portion of land to concessions or private investors without the consent of local communities.

What’s in the law?

The Act takes into consideration four issues: Private Land rights, Customary Land, Government, and Public and Protected Areas.

In keeping with Article 22 of the Constitution of Liberia, the law states that non-citizen, missionary, educational and other benevolent institutions shall have the right to own property as long as such property is used for the purpose acquired; adding that title to the property shall revert to the original owners of the land after a determination is made of the non-use of the property by the Liberia Land Authority.

On acquisition of private land, the act states that a person can own land by a process called adverse possession, which means that when a person occupies a land for at least 15 years without any claims by the legitimate owner, the illegal occupant becomes the right owner.

In the law, a community’s claim of ownership to customary land will be established by evidence including oral testimonies of community members, maps, signed agreements between neighboring communities and any other confirming documents.

The law mandates the Land Authority to conduct a nationwide confirmatory Survey two years after the effective date of the act to confirm the boundaries of all customary lands.

The survey will be validated, published, and registered with the Liberia Land Authority, which will issue statutory deeds and keep records as required by law.

Depending on the amount of available Customary Land during the confirmatory survey, the LRA mandates that a minimum of twenty percent of customary land in each community, or an amount of customary land at the discretion of the community shall be set aside and allocated as Public Land.

In addition, a maximum of 20 percent of customary lands in each community will be set aside and allocated as public land.

Article 42 of the LRA also states: “Portion of Customary Land may be set aside as protected areas within government land and other lands previously designated but have not been gazette as of the effective date of the act shall be negotiated between the FDA and community based on provision two and three of this article.”

It also states that the portion of Customary Land may be set aside as a protected area by the government on the request of the community or upon the request of the government following good faith negotiations.

However, if the negotiations are unsuccessful, the government reserves the right to exercise its right of Eminent Domain as stipulated in the Liberian Constitution.

It gives the right to the community to own every protected area in a customary land and to conserve and manage it for community’s benefit but clarified that the Grebo-Krahn National Park is the last gazette land that was passed into law by the Legislature

The act, when approved by the President, will also entitle community members to carry on agricultural activities on a portion of customary land designated by the community as an agricultural area. Community members will also be able to lease, mortgage, or use agricultural areas for medium to large-scale agriculture.

The passage of the LRA into law was marred by intense national debate in Liberia. It suffered several setbacks in committee rooms despite increasing pressure from several local and international Rights Groups including the Global Witness and the Civil Society Working Group on the Land Rights Act, a conglomeration of several civil society organization who have been advocating the rights of the community to own land.