It was interactive, it was informative, and it was quite rewarding. On Friday March 27, 2015, the Land Commission held a retreat for select members of the National Legislature on the draft Land Rights Bill.
The retreat took place at the Fairground in Buchanan and brought together members of the House and Senate Standing Committees on Lands, Mines and Energy, Natural Resources and Environment, Internal Affairs, Judiciary and Executive.
Buchanan City Mayor, Hon. Julia K. Bono Mellish, welcomed the officials to the City of Buchanan and wished them fruitful deliberations.
In his opening remarks, the Chairman of the Land Commission, Dr. Cecil T. O. Brandy told the Lawmakers that the Land Commission is inundated with diverse land issues despite the accomplishments that have been made regarding land policy and land law reform.
He said the issue of land rights and security of tenure is fundamental to how Liberians relate to their communities and how they view themselves as citizens of Liberia as underpinned in the Constitution.
Dr. Brandy told the Lawmakers that in spite of the many positive strides the Land Commission continues to make, budgetary support to implement planned programs and projects remains a challenge, to the point where Commissioners and senior staff have not received scratch cards and gasoline since 2012.
He pleaded with the Lawmakers to utilize their lobbying skills and encourage their colleagues to pass into law, the Land Rights Bill, which was submitted to the National Legislature by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in December 2014.
In separate remarks, the Senators and Representatives pointed out that it was their pleasing duty and oversight responsibility to attend such an interactive forum where they gained valuable insight of the draft Bill and learned lessons about the Commission that will guide them in not only passing the Bill into law, but also making decisions regarding budgetary allotment to the Commission given the high volume of work it has been entrusted to perform.
They thanked the Land Commission for the excellent work being done throughout the years of existence but however expressed shock over the financial squeeze being faced by the Land Commission to do its work.
They assured the Chairman and Board of Commissioners that they will use whatever means available to them to ensure that the Land Rights Bill is passed into law for the benefit of all Liberians and the nation as a whole.
Representative Gabriel Smith said “Land is Life” and therefore appealed to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to seriously consider increasing the budgetary allotment to the Commission.
Both Senator J. Gbleh-bo Brown and Representative Wesseh Blamoh expressed fear over boundary harmonization of counties, districts and clans, which remains a challenge for the Land Commission and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They emphasized that in order to avoid land conflicts; the issue of boundary harmonization should be addressed.
Senators Henry W. Yallah, Commany B. Wesseh and Edward B. Dagoseh said with the exchanges of views on the draft Land Rights Bill, and with particular reference to the customary land tenure, they now have hope that Liberia is on the path to development.
Representatives Lester Paye and W. Saywah Dunah also expressed similar sentiments on customary land ownership and said that the land governance structure and means of acquiring customary land should be clearly defined.
The retreat produced candid exchanges of views between the LC Board of Commissioners, the legal team of Heritage Partners led by Cllr. Nagbalee Warner and legislators on the substantive portions of the Bill, particularly the customary land rights category, which recognizes the ownership rights of local communities to their land and non-mineral surface rights, including forest and water.
The retreat was sponsored by the Land Commission, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the World Bank and facilitated by Heritage Partners and Associates led by its Senior Managing Partner, Cllr. Nagbalee Warner, the lead drafter of the Land Rights Act. See Pictorial inside.