Senate Fails to Agree with House of Representatives on Passage of Land Rights Act

MONROVIA, Montserrado – The Liberian Senate has failed to concur with the House of Representatives to pass the Land Rights Act.

Following debates on Thursday, 20 out of the 30 senators voted to return the proposed law to the respective committees for additional work.

The House of Representatives recently advanced the bill, which aims to give citizens more ownership and power to manage their lands.

The action of the representatives followed intense pressure from partners, stakeholders, and civil society actors.

A joint committee of the Senate and House of Representatives working on the Act had led several reviews and public hearings on the document, in addition to consultations with stakeholders, experts, and international partners.

The new version of the document recognizes government, public, private, and community ownership of land.

Thursday marked the third time the bill was presented in the Senate without passage.

The chair of the Senate committee, Varney Sherman, was among senators calling for additional work to be done on the document. Others who supported the call were, Senators Jim Tornonlah, Daniel Naatehn, Henry Yallah and Alphonso Gate.

Members of the legislature are shortly expected to take their annual legislative break, but Senator Albert Chie, the Senate chair of the Lands, Mines, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has given his assurance that the Senate would pass the law this year.

According to him, the draft law addresses sticky issues surrounding land rights in the country.

In addition to calls for the Legislature to act on the bill, the Civil Society Working Group on land rights reform feared that if provision in the draft law concerning tribal certificate, management of customary land, and customary land protected areas are tampered with, it would defeat not only the fundamental purpose of land reform in Liberia but also undermine the peace of the country.

Presenting a statement on behalf of the group, Sustainable Development Institute’s community land protection manager, Constance Teage, said since the last public hearing on the draft law, the working group observed a lack of transparency in the ongoing process of the law reform.

“If the work of the legislature is shouldered in secrecy and hidden from the public, it erodes the confidence of the public in the law,” she added, pointing out that the establishment of a legislative consultative forum excluded CSOs and ordinary citizens,

The UK-based corruption watch group Global Witness had also called on the Legislature to pass the proposed Land Rights Act to protect the rights of rural citizens and reject any versions that does not allow land ownership rights to communities.

Global Witness campaigner Jonathan Gant said the act is one of the most important laws the Liberian government could pass.

“The [Land Rights Act], if passed, should recognize that communities own their land and ensure local communities – and only local communities – have the power to say where their lands are and how they should be managed,” Gant said.

The group also encouraged President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to veto that law if it does not protect the ownership and management rights of rural landowners.

Featured photo courtesy of David Stanley

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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