Monrovia — The Civil Society Working Group on Land Rights Reform has launched what appeared to be a last minute fight in persuading the 53rd National Legislature to pass the Land Rights Act before the dawn of the hefty campaign season, which will virtually end the workings of that assembly.
In a press conference held in Monrovia on Monday, June 12, the CSO working group re-echoed their dismay over the delay of the passage of the bill and called on the law makers to act quickly as time is of the essence.
"We the members of the Civil Society Working Group on Land Rights Reform are deeply troubled by the delay in the passage of this bill; considering that for the past three years from July 2014 to present, this very same bill with the very same issues that were brought up at the May 22nd, 2017 public hearing, has been subjected to numerous reviews, debates and discussions; which resulted in a second revised Land Rights Act of September 27, 2016," the statement read by Constance Teage of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI).
"The National Legislature has now had the draft Land Rights Act for 3 years.
The Land Rights Act for the first time in Liberia history will grant communities the right to own the land that they have occupied through the customary land category within the Land Rights Act.
With this in mind we urge the lawmaker to honor the urgency for immediate action to reform the land tenure system of Liberia, and grant to all Liberians the opportunity and right to own land without discrimination," the group petitioned.
The CSO Working Group call comes just days after a joint committee of the Senate and the House on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources and Environment and the Judicial Committee conducted a public hearing on the second draft of the Land Rights Act of Liberia (LRA).
According to the group, at the end of the hearing on May 22, 2017, there were strongly held opinions among some government officials and some of the legislature that the draft Land Rights Act should be subjected to further reviews and consultations, without a definite time frame in which this would happen; adding that it was even stated that if the 53rd Legislature does not pass the bill, the 54th Legislature would pass it.
The group however noted that the Traditional Council, CSOs, some government agencies, women groups and lawmakers largely agreed that the core principles of the law are sound and reflect the desire of the Liberian people.
In this regard, the group asserted that many of the issues raised at the hearing can be properly addressed when regulations are established after the bill is passed."
"It admitted that although there can never be a perfect bill; further delay of the passage of the bill is not in the interest of the Liberian people.
Also speaking, the Executive Director of Rights and Rice Foundation and a member of the CSO Working Group, James Yarsiah averred that the failure of the 53rd Legislature to pass the bill will be a missed opportunity and a waste of tax payers' money.
"It will be unfair to the Liberian people to go through the land reform process that started in 2009, to have spent tax payers' money to this extent and at the last hour dropped the process that could have consummated a progressive land reform that we Liberians can be proud of on the continent. We think that is not fair."
"There is urgency that we attached to this that some of our colleagues on Capitol Hill do not attached," Yarsiah intoned.
"The bill needs to be passed because by July, the legislators are not going to have enough time; by August they will go on Legislative break," Constance Teage added.
"This bill is our vote. This is the reason we put you there."
"The women of Liberia are vulnerable; people with disabilities are vulnerable, we are appealing to the lawmakers to make sure that this bill is passed," adds Betty Sharpe of the Concerned Women Group of Liberia.
The CSOs Working Group on Land Reform is a conglomeration of over 18 civil society organizations operating in Liberia that are currently engaging stakeholders to pass the Draft Land Rights Act into law.
The Land Rights Bill was born out of the Land Rights Policy and seeks to put in place appropriate systems and requisite control measures for a more suitable way of acquiring land in Liberia.
The Act, among other things establishes a very clear and requisite control mechanism for acquiring every portion of land in Liberia including a very well defined categories of land ownership which intends to ensure that land owners, including inhabitants of customary land owing rural communities have primary rights and options to determine the way their land are used and managed and by whom.