31 January 2013

Liberia: Transformation Requires Reforms

Photo: Liberia Govt
President Sirleaf addresses students at Columbia University

Liberia's transformation will only be successful when certain reforms are affected, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told legislators Monday.

The reforms include the Constitution, land matters, institutional and governmental restructuring, the private sector and Liberianization.

"Our experience shows over the last 27 years have illustrated that the 1986 Constitution is inadequate to address current realities of this nation and the aspirations of its people. When Liberians gather, you hear us discuss and debate the power of the presidency, educational qualifications, the tenure of office for elective public offices, citizenship, gender equality, equal distribution and access to national assets, economic opportunities, and many other issues with constitutional implications."

To respond to these concerns, she said in August 2012 she established a Constitution Review Committee with the mandate "to review our Constitution through discourses, debates and consultations on various provisions, to determine recommendations for subsequent amendments. Six eminent Liberians were appointed to lead this process."

According to her, "The administration and management of land and governance of our natural resources continue to pose major challenges and will become one of our principal areas of concentration during 2013. The recent Private User Permits (PUP) debacle is a glaring example of the need for major reform of our land and natural resource governance systems.

We acknowledge these challenges and recognize the need to address them in a comprehensive manner, and have taken significant steps in this regard, principally through the creation of the Land Commission which is tasked with developing policies, legislation and regulations that ensure equal access to productive land for all Liberians; ensure security of tenure and the rule of law with regard to all land transactions; facilitate the development and implementation of institutional framework, the use and management of land, and promote investment in land and land resources."

She then said the Land Commission has completed a draft Land Rights Policy, which is now being validated through a series of five regional consultative meetings with the National Land Rights Policy expected to be completed by the end of February.

"The Policy is transformative as it clearly establishes, for the first time, distinct categories of land rights which ensure that all Liberians have equal access to land within the framework of clearly defined policies. The Policy will call for the recognition of customary land rights, along with private, public and government of land rights, thus providing new opportunities for economic empowerment of rural communities, advances in national cohesion and reconciliation, establishing conditions conducive for improving communities in the governance of natural resources, and strengthening rights for all other tenure categories."

The Commission will also be piloting, through Land Coordination Centers, an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system in six counties shown to have a prevalence of land disputes, namely, Bong, Lofa, Margibi, Maryland, Montserrado and Nimba. It is hoped that this study will result in the adoption of a mediation and arbitration national framework

which will be introduced, thereby enhancing our ability and capacity to resolve land disputes in a manner that is accessible, affordable and expedient.

"Recognizing that the present land administration institutional arrangement is antiquated and inadequate, the Commission has begun developing a comprehensive Land Administration Policy, which will look at policy, legal and regulatory as well as institutional arrangements for reforming and improving land administration in Liberia. Working closely with the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, the Commission anticipates that a draft Land Administration Policy will be completed by June.," the president said.

The Land Commission has also been working with other ministries and agencies to assist concessionaires to obtain land from tribal authorities consistent with international best practices of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Most recently, an agreement was concluded between the citizens of Sarbo District, River Gee County, and the Cavalla Rubber Corporation for establishment of a rubber plantation on 4,000 hectares of land.

Among its other activities, the Land Commission will be undertaking an inventory of tribal certificates, in order to address the issues of land rights, including rights held under public land, customary land and the other two categories of tenure (i.e., private and government land).

The Commission will validate the authenticity of tribal certificates that have been collected, and those that are authenticated will be processed into deeds.

Given the importance the government attaches to land rights, reforming the institutions and laws that guide us in creating an equitable and just policy on land rights use, management and administration, she said a special task force dealing with cross-cutting issues of gender and land rights has been formed, with the Ministry of Gender and the Land Commission as co-chairs.

Recently, the land dispute between ELWA and the government was resolved through the efforts of the Vice President who mediated in the matter. In the settlement, ELWA, recognizing government's need for the land, consented to relinquish 11.2 acres, in exchange for being granted a Title Deed to the remaining portion of the land. Efforts are under way to conclude the processes that will enable us to commence reconstruction of the Ducor Hotel and the E.J. Roye Building as public properties.

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