31 October 2012

Liberia: Land Commission Speaks Out - Says It Favors Arbitration As Opposed to Court Room Process

After about two years into active work to meet up with the task assigned it, reviewing and deciphering available options and processes and putting every paper work on the table to derive appropriate policies in keeping with best practices that meet and national consensus, the Land Commission says it is well on course with its mandate, but is at the same time very conscious about how it intends to pursue other issues that are of vital significance to achieving its goal.

One of many activities embarked upon include a pilot project that is about sensitizing Liberians about its work, educating them on the issue of tribal certificate, how to resolve conflicts arising from land disputes amongst others.

Addressing a news conference recently, Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Othello Brandy and three of his colleagues in persons of Estelle Liberty, Susannah Vaye and Walter Wisner underscored some significant steps they have taken thus far and how they want to proceed with other aspects of their work, especially land acquisition and the resolution of land conflicts.

Firstly, Dr. Brandy bemoaned the inundation of land cases on court dockets, and said something needed to be done about that.

"We are involved in the collection of tribal certificates," he said and added people were responding by coming forth with their tribal certificates.

Apart from the collection of tribal certificates which is well on course, Dr. Brandy told journalists that they are piloting in five counties a land dispute project titled "Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)" with the help of partners, such as the Peace-building fund and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Alternative Dispute Resolution, he explained is a fancy word used in place of mediation and arbitration. Stressing "As you know, our people throughout Liberia have always used mediation and arbitration under our judicial system."

Besides that, he indicated that mediation and arbitration are workable method and procedure adopted and used by other organizations such as Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Carter Center that are involved in peace-building programs across Liberia.

As part of the pilot project, the Land Commission chairman, who is a former minister of Agriculture during the administration of former President Charles Taylor, said they have been working over the past two years bringing together everyone that is involved in land dispute into one task force titled "Land dispute task force."

"It is through that activities that we have developed a framework using mediation and arbitration that we will begin to pilot in four counties, looking at how mediation and arbitration can be formalized," Dr. Brandy noted.

According him, they also intend to properly train everyone after which they are certificated and empowered to oversee the arbitration process, noting that it will provide the opportunity for justice to be dispensed, especially as it regards the land matter in a cheap and affordable way.

Saying that this will be done at the village and local levels to strengthen local organizations, he noted "we have to provide trainings for chiefs for organizations that are operating at the local level so that we do not create a new structure."

Maintaining the existing structure, Dr. Brandy pointed out will have impact on resolving all of these disputes that are all over the country.

While in view of the Land Commission it is important to dwell on the ADR process is the bottleneck often experienced in adjudicating land related cases as evident by record cases before the Supreme Court.

Dr. Brandy revealed about 93% of cases the Supreme Court had to go through were land related, stressing "it takes long time for cases to be looked into; sometimes the cases are back-locked and sometimes the lawyers play long games."

He is unhappy that simple cases that should be handled in a short period of time at times take several years to be handled, adding "based on the study and review we have done, we are determined that the approach we will take in terms of land dispute will favor mediation and arbitration approach as opposed to the court room approach."

The Land Commission is presently in the process of establishing Land Coordination Center (LCC) in Lofa, Margibi and Bong Counties for which it is engaged in a nationwide sensitization outreach campaign through the Liberia Crusaders for Peace.

Rural dwellers are to take their land issues to the LCC where trained staffers will provide needed education on arising land matters.

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