In September 2021, the Parliament of Sierra Leone tabled two bills to reform the land governance in the country. Green Scenery, in cooperation with other organizations analyzed the new legislation thoroughly and provided suggestions and recommendations for amendments to the draft legislation.
SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES AND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
- Define the Chiefdom Council’s oversight role
- Clarify the question of land ownership;
- Clearly define what ‘customary land acquisition’ means to answer the question of whether a piece of customary land can be bought on freehold basis
- Regulate Cattle-herder and farmer relationships
- Fix a lease floor price of no less than 100 USD per hectare
- Simplify the creation process of Town/Village Area Land Committees
- Define or prevent sustainable investments in protected areas
- Chiefdom Councils should not have an oversight role over land and only Paramount Chief Nominees should serve as chairperson for chiefdom land committees – otherwise, the intention of the proposed laws to remove all forms of discrimination and protect customary land rights will be undermined and corrupt practices risk continuation. If the oversight responsibility of the Chiefdom Councils is to stay, we argue that responsibilities and functions of the Chiefdom Councils should be clearly spelled out.
- The proposed Customary Land Right Act does not adequately answer the question of: Who owns the land? Given the complexity of family lineage in our rural settings, where almost an entire village has its roots with a few families, it is very necessary for the proposed Customary Land Rights Act to dedicate a part of the Act to the definition of land ownership. This section needs to detail the various forms of owners; circumstances under which one can own land; and other issues such as who is counted as part of a land-owning families and qualifications for rights, or under which situations (regarding a given period of land occupancy) can a land user be considered as owner of a piece of land onto which he/she has invested. The fact that community land is also defined under Section 1 as “family lands that exist within the community” defies the idea of vesting family land in the family as a unit. We thus recommend removal of the term “family lands” from the definition of community lands.
- Land lease fee redistribution should be clearly disaggregated. Landowners consulted argue that land lease fees are their private monies and should not be redistributed. However, in order to consolidate the cooperation of other authorities, we propose that the lease fee should be disaggregatedin the following manner: 80% for land owners, 10% for Chiefdom Development Funds, and 10% for Constituency Development Funds. This, we believe will facilitate and support inclusive land governance and make the respective stakeholders play an active role in preventing and managing land-related conflict, supporting the rights of customary land owners and investments. It will also show that communities are contributing to the development in their localities.
- In the absence of any existing law and relevant policy on possible conflicts between cattle-rearers and crop-farmers over the same piece of land, a section of the Customary Land Rights Act should be dedicated to clarification of how commercial cattle-rearers can acquire customary rights to use lands. We suggest that cattle rearers be requested to enter into formal land use agreements with Town/Village Land Committees and Chiefdom Land Committees, clarifying range of land used, period of time uses, and the protection of water resources among other things. A respective schedule could be added to the bill.
- The laws need to clarify whether a maternal grand-child can lay claims of ownership on his/her mother’s family land – Usually, nephews and nieces are told to lay such claim only on their mother’s family land. Grand-children are forbidden against claiming ownership right with their uncles and aunties.
- The establishment of Town/Village Area Land Committees should be simplified – Section 56 of the National Land Commission charges District Commissions with the task of establishing Town/Village Area Land Committees. Because this process would be lengthy and costly, we suggest that Towns/Villages have the possibility to register their Town/Village area Land Committees with their respective Chiefdom Land Committees, providing proof of having followed a given procedure. A schedule for proper elections could be added to the National land Commission Act.
- Village Area Land Committees membership should be extended to the amount of land-owning families. Section 57 (1) limits the membership to Village Area Land Committees to 4 resident land -owners in the town or village. It implies that on some occasions, not all land-owning families of the village will be represented in the committee. Furthermore, there is no indication in the Bill of the duration of membership for neither the Chiefdom Land Committees nor the Town or Village Area Land Committees. This omission may be the cause of future conflicts. We therefore suggest changing the section to57. (1) Each Town or Village Area Land Committee shall consist of the following members who shall reside in the respective towns or villages:(a) town or village chief who shall be the Chairperson or a representative of the chief;(b) A member of each land-owning family
(c) an equal number of resident non-landowners
Furthermore, because no tenure duration is defined, we propose addition of the following section:
57. (4) Town or Village area Land Committees should give the opportunity for members to be replaced through elections once a year
- Disagreement between majority and few members of a family to lease family land may forestall investment and discriminate against majority rights – Section 31 of the Customary Lands Right Acts proposes that a lease agreement is only valid when signed by ALL adult family members. This is being vehemently opposed by the investors we engaged, who argue that it has always been a very difficult task getting ALL family members under one roof to agree to sign a lease agreement. In the case of disagreement between a majority and few family members (usually due to the personal differences in polygamous homes), investment will be delayed or completely debarred. Disagreements may also discriminate against the majority rights of those few members of the landowning family who want their land leased out. While a solution could be to legitimize a large fraction (e.g. 80%) of the family to sign lease agreements, we argue that this could lead to abuses, such as whereby certain bad investors may easily circumvent a section of the family who already have conflicting interests. We therefore suggest to complement sections 11, 31, and 32 with a clause wherein if a few family members oppose a lease, they should be heard by a grievance committee to mediate a consensus. Where this committee concludes that the decision of these few family members is “unreasonable”, then they should not be allowed to veto.
- Sustainable investment should not be allowed in protected areas – In section 25 of the Customary Land Rights bill, sustainable investments are permitted in environmentally protected areas. The loosely used term “sustainable investment” is not defined in the bill. If the section alludes to investments benefiting the protection of the environment, such as ecotourism, research, or restoration activities (such as mentioned under Section 12 of the “National Protected Area Agency Act, 2021”), Then this Section contradicts Section 21 of the same bill, which prevents mining, plantation, farming or any large-scale development activities to take place in wetlands, wildlife habitats, steep slopes, old growth or virgin forests, or other ecologically sensitive areas. Investments should, therefore, not be carried in protected and environmental sensitive areas generally. We therefore argue changing section 25 to25. Only investments for the benefits of the environment shall be carried out in areas designated as protected under – …
- The government shall fix a standardized floor price for a hectare of land at minimum USD 100 – We deduced from comments from community members and stakeholders we engaged that there is always a huge power imbalance between landowners and a wealthy multinational investor who is accompanied by government authorities and the paramount chief. Thus, it is not feasible that land-owners can fairly negotiate any lease fee for their land above the government’s stipulated fee as proposed by the draft Customary land Right Act. We therefore suggest altering Section 38. A study by the Ruhr-University Bochum suggested that adequate compensation in a case in Bombali District, should amount to between €48.5 and €55.41 per acre of land. We argue to alter Section 38 of the National Land Commission to:38. Government agencies may set minimum rates of no less that US$ 100 per hectare for leasing of land for specific purposes, but communities and families shall have the right to negotiate for higher rental payments than the minimum rates.