Ellen Issues Several Executive Orders

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has issued several Executive Orders in Monrovia taking effect as of Friday, January 16, 2015.

According to the Executive Mansion Press releases, the orders issued include Executive Order No. 66 extending the tenure of the Land Commission by one additional year ending January 9, 2016, Executive Order No. 67 extending the moratorium on public land sales and all transaction including the issuance of Tribal Certificates and Town Lot Certificates issued by Executive Order No. 53 on December 20, 2013 and Executive Order No. 69 extending Executive Order No. 52 which calls for the suspension of sections 904 (a) and 904 (b) of the Liberia Revenue Code of 2000 as amended.

On the extension of the tenure of the Land Commission, the order says ‘the Land Commission shall carry out its mandate, functions and duties, including the exercise of all rights and privileges that were afforded it under the Land Commission Act of A.D. 2009.

The Commission was established by an Act of the Legislature on August 9, 2009, and charged with the mandate to propose, advocate and coordinate land policy, laws and programs in Liberia. The Commission which has a five-year tenure as prescribed by the Act officially began operation in March, 2010.

The Executive Order No. 66, signed by President Sirleaf on January 7, 2015, further states that during the period of the extension of tenure, the Commission will work along with other Government agencies to complete draft legislation and activities to facilitate the transition into a new land agency.

A bill is being proposed by the Executive for Legislative consideration that would separate the land functions from several ministries and agencies and establish an agency with a focus on land, which will require a transitional period for the Commission and other agencies of Government to plan and undertake activities leading to the establishment and operational readiness of a new land agency.

The Liberian leader indicated that current issues surrounding land governance, including administration and management still poses serious challenges to ensuring equal access, security of tenure, and the rule of law regarding land transactions within the country.

She further stressed that Government recognizes the extent and seriousness of these land tenure issues, which require a move towards a more equitable system of land rights; a more modern and re-organized land administration system; and the development of the requisite capacity to evolve such a system.

Since its establishment, the Land Commission has made significant progress in fulfilling its key mandate to undertake necessary policy and law reforms as evident by the following: formulation, validation and adoption by the Government and people of Liberia a National Land Rights Policy; the drafting of a Land Rights Act, now before the National Legislature for enactment; the formulation of a draft Land Administration Policy, which among several recommendations will declare Government’s intention to establish a dedicated land agency; and developing policies and drafting laws for Urban Land Use and Land Dispute Resolution, among others.

For Order No. 67, the President indicated that the moratorium is effective for a period of one year.

She said because of the continuation of public land sales under the current procedures, as outlined in the Public Land Laws of 1973, will exacerbate problems of unequal access, insecurity of tenure and the rule of law in public land transaction, it is imperative that a moratorium be placed on the sale of public land to allow for new land laws, regulations and procedures to be formulated.

The moratorium applies to all individuals, government functionaries, local officials, traditional authorities’ communities, groups, businesses and associations involved in public land transactions.

The Executive Order No. 67 further states that this moratorium also applies to all activities involving the issuance of Tribal Certificates by traditional or other governmental authorities or the issuance of Town Lot Certificates by municipal authorities; that relevant government ministries and agencies shall be responsible to closely monitor the situation to ensure compliance; and that all Tribal Certificates or Town Lot Certificates issued by any local authority during the period of this moratorium shall be considered illegal and void.

The Liberian leader said recognizing that during the formulation of the new land laws, regulations and procedures, some public land transaction must be undertaken to secure land for public use and development initiatives which will require thorough vetting procedures, a nine-member screening committee has been constituted to vet all Public Land Deeds in the country and work in accordance with the Interim Guides and Procedures for the sale of Public Land (2011) as recommended for the Land Commission.

Members of the committee are: Chairperson of the Land Commission (chair); Ministers of Justice, Internal Affairs, Public Works, Agriculture, and the Lands, Mines and Energy.

Others are the Chairman of the National Investment Commission, Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority and the Executive Director of the Environment Protection Agency.

Executive Order No. 67 further specified that current issues surrounding the sale of public land poses serious challenges to ensuring equal access, security of tenure and the rule of law with regards to public land transaction.

The Liberian leader recognized that issues involving public land are complex, current procedures contribute to many of the problems and abuses associated with public land sales, there is a need to address and investigate these procedures, recognizing that there are technical social issues involved in identifying available public land, including the issuance of Tribal Certificates or Town Lot Certificates.

She pointed out that since the Land Commission is undertaking comprehensive reforms of the land sector and has completed a National Land Rights Policy which redefines Public Land and requires the formulation of new laws, regulations and procedures to guide transaction involving public land, the continuing issuance of Tribal Certificates and Town Lot Certificates for effecting public land sale, if left unchecked will significantly hamper implementation of the National Land Rights Policy, specifically diminishing the benefits of customary land rights.

Order No. 69 calls for the extension of Order No. 52, suspending certain sections of the Liberia Revenue Code of 2000 as amended is to address the difficulties in the collection of government revenues occasioned by the gross under declaration of income tax by the taxpaying community.

In its drive to continue maximizing revenue collection, the Government of Liberia extended Executive Order No. 52 and suspended Section 904 (a) “Advance payment requirement” and 904 (b) “Quarterly payment of the Liberia Revenue Code of 2000 as amended, relating to the payment of advance income tax on the basis of 100 percent of income tax liability of the preceding tax year or 90 percent income tax liability of the current tax period. Advance payments are to be made quarterly as determined under section 904 (a) 3.

It imposes as advance income tax two percent (2%) of the gross turnover/receipt for persons that are required to file income tax return as this payment shall be calculated on a quarterly basis and remitted into the General Revenue Account.

Executive Order No. 69 has declared that the income tax filer is authorized to deduct from the advance income tax for each quarter all income taxes withheld and paid on its behalf and remit the balance into the General Revenue Account;

It has required that for a calendar year taxpayer, the advance tax is due on January 15, April 15, July 15, and October 15, while for a fiscal year taxpayer, advance tax shall be made by the 15th day following the end of each quarter of the taxpayer’s tax year. Failure to make timely payment shall be subject to the rules of Section 13 and Section 51 of the Code.

Meanwhile, the President has also issued Executive Order No. 68 establishing a Taskforce against the Encroachment on Beachfronts, Waterways and Wetlands.

The Taskforce comprises the Chairman of the Land Commission (Chair), Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (Co-chair), and the Ministers of Justice, Internal Affairs, Public Works, Lands, Mines and Energy and Information, Culture and Tourism as members.

Others members are the Inspector-General of the Liberia National Police and Local Municipal Authorities.

According to an Executive Mansion release, the Task Force Terms of Reference (TOR) include: provide technical and administrative support to the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) on Encroachments on wetlands, beach and river fronts; support offices and local authorities including Township Commissioners in ensuring that citizens and residents adhere and conform to prescribed and established policy and regulatory regimes for managing and regulating the use and conservation/reservation of wetlands, beach and riverfronts; report and document all violations and violators of established regulations, policies and laws; process violators for legal proceedings and actions and develop interim, immediate-to-long term policy and regulatory guidelines/regimes needed for the management of wetlands, beach and river fronts.

They are also to develop and support the implementation of programs to sensitize and raise awareness for all residents and citizens about the economic potentials and environmental implications of wetlands, beach and river fronts; submit a quarterly report to the Inter-agency Committee outlining problems, challenges and achievements in the management of wetlands, beach and river fronts; monitor all developments within and surrounding these established zones (distances) un-allowed for un-approved developments; support and conduct assessments of potential uses of wetlands, beach and river fronts in conjunction and collaboration with relevant public and private entities; and perform other tasks as may be deemed necessary by the Inter-agency Committee.

However, the TOR may be altered and updated from time to time by an IAC to respond to the prevailing realities and conditions.

President Sirleaf, in Executive Order No. 68, indicated that Government has realized the extreme damaging effect that encroachment on beachfronts, waterways and wetlands poses to the environment and the life of residents and citizens.

She noted that Liberia signed the Ramsar Convention in 2003 as a commitment to join the campaign for the protection of wetlands and in recognition of the importance of ensuring the sustainable use of the ecosystem and maintaining the decency of beachfronts, waterways and wetlands, the Liberian Government, through the Maritime Commission, initiated a project in 2013 to clean the beaches in and around Monrovia.

Section 75 (1) of the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia empowers the Environmental Protection Agency in consultation with the relevant line Ministry to make guidelines and prescribe measures for protection of rivers, lakes and wetlands.

President Sirleaf noted that despite these guidelines and regulations to protect beachfronts, waterways and wetlands which exist on the books, these measures are not being enforced by the requisite agencies; consequently, people continue to encroach on these natural resources.

“The numerous un-sanitary encroachments and unwarranted uses of waterways and wetlands continue to increase environmental degradation in Liberia,” Executive Order No. 68 stresses, adding that urgent measures of sustainable environmental management and protection of these ecosystems need to be taken without delay and urgent interventions that may curtail time lapses leading to permanent loss or destruction are required”, she concluded.