PUBLIC HEARING ON PROPOSED LAND AUTHORITY BILL RECONVENES SOON SENATE COMMENDED

The Liberian Senate, through its Committees on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources and Environment & Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petitions, has been commended for the reconvening of public hearing on the proposed Bill creating the Liberia Land Authority (LLA), the new institutional structure that will consolidate land functions from existing agencies of the Government. Public hearing on the Bill was suspended on September 30, 2015, to allow for internal consultations among agencies of the Government that had issues with some provisions of the Bill. The Bill is being proposed against the background of the current fragmentation of land functions among more than eight (8) government agencies, which has led to ineffectiveness, considerable confusion, poor delivery of services, and corrupt practices. It also one of several key deliverables of land reform taking place in Liberia under the auspices of the Land Commission.

According to a citation dated January 13, 2016, under the signature of Senator Albert Chie, to agencies of the Government, copy of which is in the possession of this paper, the public hearing is scheduled to take place on February 17, 2016, in the Chambers of the Senate. Cross-section of citizens and officials of the Government in interviews commended the Joint Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, under the chairmanship of Senator Chie, for decisively taking action by convening the first public hearing in September 2015. They also commended the Senate for the bold step to reconvene the hearing and expressed optimism for the speedy passage of the Bill into law, given the enormous expected benefits that will be accrued to the nation. The benefits include but are not limited to human and institutional capacity building for improved service delivery; policy, legal and regulatory reform; rebuilding and modernization of the land administration systems- land survey, mapping, registration, and valuation, etc. They further called on the Senate to resist any and all attempts by unscrupulous bureaucrats, politicians, land sellers and buyers, who are benefitting through fraud and other malpractices from the current land survey and registration services, to stop the Bill from enactment. They further stated that because these practices have continued unchecked, land disputes are endemic, overtaking the dockets of courts and threatening the peace and security of nation. They also appealed to the House of Representatives to take similar action on the Bill as the Senate.

Liberians and the international community are therefore hoping for the speedy passage of the Land Authority Bill into law. Establishing the Land Authority and making it operational through budget support sooner rather than later will restore the much needed confidence and coordination needed in the sector, following the end of the Land Commission’s extended tenure on January 9th, 2016. Further necessitating the need for enactment of the Bill is the good will of the international community to assist Liberia undertakes the necessary reforms through bi-lateral and multi-lateral support. Two donor projects, the USAID five year (2015-2019) Land Governance Support Activity (LGSA) and the soon-to- be approved five year World Bank 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. According to sources closed to USAID and the World Bank, the total cost of both projects is estimated at over USD 19 Million.

Liberians are equally calling on and appealing to both the Senate and House of Representatives to muster the courage to pass into law the Land Rights Bill, for which public hearing was held on August10, 2015.

It can be recalled that President Sirleaf, in her 2012 and 2013 annual messages to the National Legislature, informed them of her intention to submit a Bill to separate the lands function from the Ministry of Lands, Mines, and Energy, and related agencies and to establish an agency with a focus on land matters.
Consequently, The Land Commission was instructed by the President to draft the establishment Act for such an agency in consultation with relevant agencies of Government, including the Governance and Law Reform Commissions. After several consultations covering a period of more than two years, an establishment Bill, the Liberia Land Authority Bill was drafted, reviewed by key stakeholders and subsequently submitted to the President in September 2015.

Liberians interviewed expressed appreciation to the Land Commission for accomplishing so much in the short period of its existence (August 2009 to January 2016).

Summarized below are some of the major achievements of the Commission:
•Conducted consultations in the 15 counties of Liberia to identify priority areas for land reform;
•Convened the first National Urban Conference of Liberia;
•Produced over 15 reports and research products covering land issues and matters;
•Developed Interim Guidelines and Procedures for the Sale of Public Land;
•Formulated the first National Land Rights Policy, which was adopted by the people and Government of Liberia;
•Drafted the Land Rights Bill, which is before the Legislature for enactment;
•Drafted the proposed Liberia Land Authority Bill, which is before the Legislature for enactment;
•Formulated the final Land Administration Policy, which is awaiting Cabinet endorsement;
•Formulated Land Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy, which is currently undergoing in-house review before consultation and presentation to the President;
•Drafted the Act against the Criminal Conveyance of Land, which was enacted into law by the Legislature;
•Established and made operational, Land Coordination Centers in six (6) of the fifteen (15) counties of Liberia;
•Conducted pilots of tribal certificate inventories in Lofa, Margibi and Maryland Counties;
•Completed the inventories of tribal certificates in Bong, Cape Mount, Montserrado and Bomi Counties;
•Completed pilot urban land inventories in the cities of Gbarnga, Buchanan, and Ganta;
•Conducted vetting of public land sale deeds which, upon approval by an inter-agency screening committee were forwarded to the President for her signature;
•Assisted companies in the agriculture sector secure land to meet targets in compliance with the terms and conditions set forth in their concession agreements;
•Worked in collaboration with relevant agencies of the Government to ensure that concessionaires acquired land in compliance with the Land Right Policy.

Liberian Observer

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