-Senator Chie allays colleagues’ concerns
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources & Environment, has denied concerns raised by some of his colleagues that the Senate is being pressurized into a quick passage of the Land Rights Act, which has already been passed by the House of Representatives. Grand Kru County Senator Albert Tugbe Chie in a recent interview said contrary to such a concern, his committee and the Senate Committe on Judiciary, Claims, Human Resources & Petitions, chaired by Grand Cape Mount County Senator H. Varney G. Sherman, did not have any direct intervention in what is contained in the current report requesting concurrent passage.
“It’s true that the joint committee consulted experienced international experts in land matters during public hearings and in committee room, but our major interactions were with the citizens through civil society groups, female lawyers, Liberian Bar Association, Council of Elders of Grand Gedeh County, experts, the general public, and community leaders,” Senator Chie said.
On the question of why the Senators, including some members of the joint committee, did not vote for immediate passage, Senator Chie said the main intent of last Tuesday’s sitting was to have an open debate, “and everyone participated, and concerns and amendments suggested will now be included in the committee’s final report which we are confident will be passed by this 53rd Legislature. We are not doing this to help any individual or institution to leave a good legacy as perceived by some people.” The Grand Kru lawmaker, who succeeded retired Senator and geophysicist Cletus Wotorson, said the more than three-hour exhaustive debate was welcomed by the joint committee as a necessary oversight and lawmaking duty, “and shows how much importance lawmakers attach to the issues concerning land.”
The Land Rights Act (2014) was submitted to the National Legislature by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as a major step in resolving land conflicts in Liberia. Among other issues, the Act delineates the different categories of land ownership and rights in Liberia and discusses the bundles of rights associated with each land category. The proposed Act itself recognizes four categories of land ownership – government land, public land, customary land, and private land. Under the private land category, the ownership of private land shall become extinct by abandonment, and the land escheats to the government if the owner fails to pay all taxes on the land for a continuous period of ten years, or when the land has not been occupied, developed or used by the owner for a period of ten years. The same private land category provides that land may be acquired by many means, including adverse possession, when the occupant remains in possession without objection for a continuous period of fifteen years (20 years in current statute). The proposed Act states that a private landowner may lose his/her title on account of the loss of his Liberian citizenship; in that case the land escheats to the government, where there are no surviving heirs or spouses. In this case, s/he shall be entitled to just compensation from the government or lease of the land from the government.
Under the customary land, a community’s ownership of land includes the ownership and rights to use an alienated, by any means, all non-mineral mineral resources on the land such as forests (Mineral resources are excluded). The proposed act also stipulates that under customary land, all concessions, contracts, permits, and licenses issued on such land prior to the effective date shall remain enforceable in keeping with their existing terms and conditions. “For concessions and other contracts and licenses issued after the effective date, including mineral concessions, each community hosting said concession, in addition to other benefits, will receive a minimum of five percent (5%) free-carried undiluted interest at all times, of the rights in the concession, license, permit or other encumbrance,” the proposed Act noted.
Through an act of the Legislature, according to the proposed Act, the government shall establish a small and efficient semi-autonomous agency to be named and styled Customary Land Support Office, to assist the traditional communities in the development of their customary lands.
Even though the lawmakers are nearing the end of the 53rd Legislature and 6th Session, reports from the joint committee speak of progress and the possibility of an eventual passage.