14 December 2012

Liberia: Land Commission, Citizens Brainstorm - Over Land Rights Policy

At a consultative meeting geared toward ensuring the accuracy and authenticity of policy statement with the hope to consolidate political will and consensus has been embarked upon by the Land Commission as it is brainstorming with citizens of the western region over the drafted land rights policy.

In an opening statement at the first regional consultation exercise in Tubmanburg, the Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Othello Brandy said the meeting at the regional level seeks to foster a sense of ownership of the process to enable ordinary citizens of the three counties to serve as champions in advocating for the policy.

"The Land Commission will guide the process and organize conference activities with civil society organizations serving as facilitators", Dr. Brandy emphasized and pointed out that interest groups consultative meetings are also being held with the hope of providing opportunity to address concerns of key stakeholders including member of the Liberian Bar Association, farmer organizations, the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, the National Women Commission and most especially rural youth and women groups, amongst others.

Dr. Brandy further said the regional consultative meetings which target the fifteen political sub-divisions of the country will ensure wider participation of the Liberian people through the district, chiefdom and clan levels representation.

It can be recalled that the Chairman of the Land Commission at the maiden edition of the commission's monthly press conference at the Ministry of Information Culture and Tourism unveiled the draft land rights policy which clearly defined recommendations for four tenure categories to include private, customary, government and public land.

During that interaction at the Ministry of Information, Dr. Brandy provided update on activities being undertaken by the Land Commission since its establishment and identified areas for future assistance.

In a presentation, Internal Affairs Minister Blamoh Nelson said under the customary tenure, people gain rights to land by virtue of their membership in families or clans that hold an area of land collectively.

"Under the customary system, land is secured as a social right. As such, land cannot be sold, or alienated especially to persons from outside of the land-holding community", Minister Nelson said.

He defined the system of statutory rights as the one associated with the settlement and assigned through deeds.

The Internal Affairs Minister commenting on government land noted that the Liberian state claims ultimate ownership of much of the land area of the country though customary tenure rights are recognized by the state, legally recognized rights are limited to use rights. Land held by the state includes areas set aside for nature conservation, forest and logging concessions, agricultural concessions, and mining concessions.

Minister Nelson said Liberians are poor because they are not benefiting from the natural resources of the country, a situation which according to him the new land tenure policy seek to address.

Commenting on deed with respect to the structure of an administrative district, the Internal Affairs Minister added that a conglomeration of local villages and towns made up chiefdom.

"A number of chiefdoms made up a clan which with its number grows to be known as administrative district and then many districts are put together to form a county but the mater deed holder is the chiefdom", the local government boss indicated.

He used the occasion to call on stakeholders to be careful so as not to alter the structure of the tradition.

Meanwhile, citizens of Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties in separate presentations responded that they in no way will they subscribe to legal representation in the process of the registration of land deeds as proposed by the commission.

The regional consultation on the draft land rights policy statement was held on December 5-7, 2012 in Tubmanburg, Bomi County.

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