Monrovia - Land governance and administration experts are engaging citizens through regional workshops on land governance issues, including accelerated action on the passage into law of the Liberia Land Authority Bill.
Against general agreement among participants for reforming the land sector, the Director of the Interim Land Task Force, Mr. Stanley N. Toe, said: “Liberia risks scale down of a US$15M USAID Land Governance Project and a World Bank US$5M Land Administration Project if the proposed Land Authority Act is not passed into law by the Legislature.”
He spoke at a regional workshop conducted August 11, 2016, in Gbarnga City for Bong, Nimba and Lofa Counties, during which participants resolved to support the passage into law of the Liberia Land Authority Bill, currently in the House of Representatives for concurrence.
Speaking further, Mr. Toe gave an overview of the land reform program led by the erstwhile Land Commission and recounted the key deliverables of the reform, including the development of the Land Rights Policy and its implementing law, the proposed Land Rights Act, and the draft Land Administration Policy, among others.
The objective of the workshop in Bong, like the previous one in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, which brought together participants from Bomi, Cape Mount and Gbarpolu Counties, was to share with participants the results of an institutional audit conducted by the USAID Land Governance Support Activity (LGSA) across the country.
The institutional audit looked at a range of issues, including the capacities of existing staff, state of technology and infrastructure, among others, of institutions such as the Center for National Documents and Records Agency (CNDRA), Department of Lands, Survey and Cartography of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME) and the offices of county Land Commissioners (MIA), and the former Land Commission and its Land Coordination Centers.
The results of the institutional audit will be used for planning purposes as land functions from diverse agencies of the Government are transferred to the proposed Land Authority, the new institutional structure that will consolidate land functions from existing agencies of the Government.
In his presentation, the LGSA Land Administration Specialist, Mr. Archie Bawo, highlighted the many challenges faced by land administration institutions both at the national and local levels.
These include the lack of trained staff, good working environment, materials and logistics and information technology.
On the issue of transitioning of land governance functions, Mr. Bawo outlined the elements required for transition of land functions to the proposed Liberia Land Authority and the activities that could start now while awaiting passage of the Authority Act.
The workshop was organized by the Interim Land Task Force with support from the USAID/LGSA.
The Task Force is a Presidential Task Force established March, 2016, following the end of the extended tenure of the Land Commission.
Benefit of the Proposed Land Authority Bill, if Enacted
At the workshop, participants were informed of the benefits that Liberia stands to gain from the passage into law of the Land Authority Bill, the legal framework for the proposed new land agency.
The benefits range from improved human and institutional capacities to rebuilding land administration services, including survey and mapping, registration of deeds/titles, valuation and taxation, which are not effective at service delivery.
The on-going USAID/ LGSA Project at the cost of US$15M and the US$5M World Bank anticipated Liberia Land Administration Project are geared towards improving land governance and support to policy and legal reform, land administration services and implementation of customary land rights.
It can be recalled that on April 12, 2016, the Seante by unanimous vote, passed into law the Liberia Land Authority Bill and thereafter submitted it to the House of Representatives for concurrence.
The current leadership crisis at the House of Representatives has rolled back the gains made by the Interim Land Task Force in its engagement with the lower House to accelerate movement on the passage of the proposed Act.
Developmental experts say, delay in the passage into law of the Land Authority Bill, is worrisome and can cause stumbling block or serious consequence to development, peace and security.
Access to land and clearly defined ownership rights, constitute one of the pillars to sustain the nation’s ten years of peace after long years of civil war, a development expert believes.
Until the Land Authority and the Land Rights Bills are passed into law, the Government of Liberia remains at a cross road of failure in its land reform program.
Meanwhile, Director Toe clarified that “the USAID/ LGSA Project’s Land Governance Advisor, Ivan Ford, is not the drafter of the Liberia Land Authority Bill as earlier published in the Front Page Newspaper, rather he is providing technical advice through the Project to support the Liberian Government to achieves objectives under its land reform program, as it relates to land administration and institutional reform”.
The workshop continues on Tuesday, August 30th, 2016, in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County with participants from Margibi, Rivercess, and Grand Bassa Counties.
Former Land Commission: Some Key Achievements
The Land Commission was established in August 2009 by an Act of the Legislature to undertake land policy and legal reform and make appropriate recommendations to the Government. Its tenure ended January 9, 2016.
Some key achievements of the former Land Commission include but are not limited to the following: Convened the first National Urban Conference of Liberia; produced over 15 reports and research products covering land issues; developed the Interim Guidelines and Procedures for the Sale of Public Land.
Its biggest achievements were: the formulation of the first National Land Rights Policy, which was subsequently adopted by the people and Government of Liberia in 2013; the drafting of the Land Rights Bill, currently before the Legislature for enactment. Shortly before its closure, the Commission developed the draft Land Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy, which will be finalized when the Liberia Land Authority is established.
Other achievements include, the development of the final Land Administration Policy, which is awaiting Cabinet endorsement, as well drafting the Act against the Criminal Conveyance of Land, already enacted into law by the Legislature and approved by the President.
The Commission also piloted the inventory of Tribal Certificates in Lofa, Margibi and Maryland Counties, as well as in Bong, Cape Mount, Montserrado and Bomi Counties.
Liberia Land Statistics
Statistics show that Liberia has a total of 9.6million hectares of land. Commercial use rights to the land are as follows: Agriculture,-12%; Mining- 1.18% and Forestry 34.53%, for a sub-total of 47.71%.
There is no available data for the amount of land held under freehold title, registered or leaseholds, customary land and that of public land.