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Featured Commitment – Liberia

Rachel Ostrow|

Country: Liberia
Action Plan: 2015-2017
Commitment: Ensure that information on commercial land use rights is made publicly available

In the past quarter century, Liberia has been ravaged by civil war and an Ebola epidemic, both of which have severely impacted the country’s capacity. The civil war, fueled by ethnic and economic conflict, ended only in 2003 with the ouster of Charles Taylor. Liberia’s first elected President (in the modern era), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, came to power in 2005. In attempting to heal the wounds of decades of civil war and unrest, good governance has been a priority of Sirleaf’s government. Land was a major source of conflict in the war, and land reform has been a major focus of securing peace and prosperity.

Land conflict contributed the outbreak of war, which in turn exacerbated the conflict. Mining companies had benefited from weak land management and lack of regulation. Land was classified ambiguously, making it difficult to follow who owned and could use the land. Long after the end of the civil war, information came to light showing that over two million hectares of land, under 63 private use permits, had been illegally granted.

In 2009, the Liberian government formed the Land Commission (to be succeeded by the Land Authority, later in 2017) and passed the Community Rights Law, which both address land rights in different ways. As part of OGP, Liberia introduced a commitment into its Second National Action Plan to support this work. The commitment works to ensure that information on commercial land use rights is made publicly available, including interactive maps showing community land boundaries, protected forest areas, and where commercial contracts have been granted. This information can help mediate disagreements over land tenure, minimizing the potential for further conflict.

But how is the government making this information available to citizens? The government has launched a Concession Information Management System (CIMS), which allows Internet users to view commercial land use rights on a map. Information has also been published on the Liberian Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI)’s website. However, these platforms have shown conflicting land tenure and documentation is not always available.

Progress on land and forest tenure rights was slowed significantly by the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, with many of the international organizations involved in funding and implementation of land reform processes forced to leave the country or put off vital work. Despite these setbacks, this commitment has been substantially completed with the publication of land concessions information online.

For this commitment to be complete, there are technical fixes, and political fixes. The technical fixes are easier: resolving land conflicts and enforcing their solutions, and making land tenure information available to those with limited literacy and access to the Internet. The political fix is more difficult. President Sirleaf finishes her presidency this year, and the election to replace her will take place in October 2017. Despite the many challenges of the Liberian context, fighting corruption – including that surrounding land concessions – has remained at the core of Sirleaf’s presidency. Liberia’s participation in OGP has helped to further progress on these issues, with the understanding that the fight for transparent land tenure and resource extraction will require a long commitment to build capacity and drive progress.

Special thanks to Carole Excell and Jessica Webb at World Resources Institute for their guidance and assistance on this commitment, and to the IRM staff for compiling the Progress Report.

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