The Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) Working Group on Land Rights Act (LRA) has called on the legislature not to tamper with some of its provisions, saying it would defeat not only the fundamental purpose of the land reform, but also undermine peace, reconciliation, and development in Liberia.
The group is a coalition of CSOs working on community land rights across Liberia that is currently engaging stakeholders and lawmakers on the passage of the Draft Land Rights Act.
The group said any attempt to place customary land under central government control will be undermining not only the rights of the communities but the principles of the land rights policy and the land reform process in general.
Communities across Liberia will strongly resist any attempt to place customary land under the lawmakers or national government actors, the group said, adding "Evidence has shown that customary lands are better managed by local communities than by centralized government structures."
The CSOs further said while the issue of tribal certificates deserves more dialogue and consultation with stakeholders, particularly local communities, they strongly protest any blanket legitimization of tribal certificates.
"If all tribal certificates are automatically recognized as legal documentation for land, this will severely undermine private tenure rights and customary land rights of communities, because currently there is no inventory of how many tribal certificates exist and how much land is under tribal certificates," the group said.
Reading the statement, Constance Teage, a member of the CSOs Working Group, said: "We suggest more opportunity for communities to self-identify and set up a land management committee before formalizing tribal certificates because it helps establish a transparent and participatory decision-making process."
According to Ms. Teage, the vetting process for tribal certificates either needs to be clearly outlined, or the Act should authorize the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) along with CSOs to outline how tribal certificates can be processed and formalized, taking into account other factors within a community, including size, demarcation and length of time that land can be undeveloped.
Madam Teage said if tribal certificates are recognized as legal documentation of land ownership, it is possible that there may be little or no land left to be granted as customary land to rural communities.
"If these provisions are not changed, everyone will enjoy the issue of land rights across the country. We don't need to change anything but rather enact the draft and ensure that everyone benefits from land rights and ownership," Madam Teage said.
Speaking on 'Customary Land and Protected Areas,' Madam Teage said by formally recognizing customary land rights as equal in law to private land rights, any attempt to make the protected area a category of land rights or as a part of government land, would fundamentally undermine the spirit of the land rights policy.
However, she said, "It is possible within the reach of government to designate protected areas or classify an area forested on any particular category of land... if such decision is based on an unbiased instrument and through the free, prior and informed consent of the affected party or parties."