16 November 2012

Liberia: Freeze On Land Sale

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has imposed a moratorium on the sale of public land pending thorough vetting by the Land Commission, the head of the entity, Dr. Cecil T.O. Brandy, Chairman of the Land Commission told Journalists Thursday.

The Liberian leader also postponed affixing her signature on the sale of public land deeds until the deeds are properly examined and certified by the Land Commission.

"The Land Commission has begun the vetting exercise and has developed interim regulations for reforming the process for acquiring a Public Land Sale Deed, which will eventually lead to reform of the 1973 Public Land Sales Law," Dr. Brandy made the revelation yesterday at the regular press conference held at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT).

He disclosed that a number of deeds have been vetted and the first batch of eleven vetted deeds was forwarded to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for her signature.

The latest decision comes amid reports of disputes involving logging companies and customary land owners on one hand and individual Liberians involved in the sale of land to multiple consumers on the other.

The sale of land has been one of the major causes for dispute, for which, the Land Commission was established in 2009 to develop policies and programs to address these critical issues.

At the press conference, the Land Commission Chairman made a public declaration recognizing customary rights to land ownership in the country.

Dr. Brandy said traditional communities that have had long standing ties to land ownership should be recognized. He believes customary or traditional land rights are crucial in formulating policies and programs that address critical issues regarding land reform in the country.

The declaration by the land Commission Chief granting traditional land rights would address cases of land disputes involving logging companies and local community land owners.

According to Dr. Brandy, based on lessons learnt from the vetting exercise, a revised set of interim procedures for affecting the sale of the public land has been developed.

He said as a result of meetings held with all stakeholders including traditional and civil society entities led to the formation of a Land Dispute Resolution Task Force that will formalize, standardize and coordinate land dispute resolution activities in Liberia. Also, Dr. Brandy said Land Commission Centers (LCC) are being established in six counties to address issues arising from land cases. The counties are Montserrado, Lofa, Bong, Nimba and Maryland counties. The various centers are responsible to reveal the prevalence of land disputes in the counties.

The Land Commission Chairman informed the media that although the Commission does not have the mandate to adjudicate cases, however, it has the authorization to develop policies and programs to address these issues.

Asked to give a statistical account of the percentage of land sold thus far, Dr. Brandy said it would be difficult to say, however, he said the Commission will be undertaking an inventory of all land sales in the country commencing 2013.

The Commission will be undertaking an inventory of tribal certificates during 2013. This is based on the urgent need to address the issues of lands rights, including rights held under public land, customary land and other two categories of tenure (i.e. private and government land).

According to him, currently, more than 800 tribal certificates have been received, scanned and kept in the commission's database. These tribal certificates were collected through three pilots that were conducted in Fissibu, Lofa County, Pleebo, Sokoken district in Maryland County and Kakata in Margibi

He said the Commission has been working with the Inter-Ministerial Agencies and Technical Committee on Harmonization of a number of boundary disputes including the resolution of two of the eight contentious county boundary disputes between Bomi and Gbarpolu counties.

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