MPW prepares to update Liberia’s zoning law | News
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MPW prepares to update Liberia’s zoning law | News

— Climate change and environmental issues will be key, says zoning director of the Ministry of Public Works

The Director of Spatial Development and Spatial Planning at the Ministry of Public Works (MPWs), Edmond Lloyd, has revealed that the ministry is planning to amend the Spatial Development Act 1957.

According to him, the current zoning law does not contain a zoning map regulating infrastructure and other investments in Monrovia and its surroundings.

Lloyd indicated that the new zoning law will emphasize the provision of space in different communities. “It will emphasize having a new zoning plan. This new zoning law will emphasize some of the environmental points that were not included in the 1957 zoning law.

“There are going to be issues related to climate change in terms of how we build and design our structures. Building size and parking. The zoning law that we use doesn’t have a map. The map was lost, so that means you have to have a map with the new zoning law for land use maps,” he said.

The Zoning Director’s calls came weeks after the Liberian Senate’s Committee on Public Works and Rural Development recommended a plenary session to “discuss and plan” for a new capital, ensuring awareness of zoning regulations.

The committee’s recommendation came as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Liberia Land Authority (LLA) and Ministry of Public Works appeared before the Senate regarding the flooding in Monrovia and neighbouring municipalities.

“The responsibilities and efforts of the Ministry of Public Works, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Liberia Land Authority, the National Disaster Management Agency, the Ministry of Justice, municipal corporations and other concerned agencies should be properly coordinated by establishing an institutional framework to effectively address the flood-related problems faced by flood victims and mitigate the effects of floods,” the Senate committee recommended.

The committee also called for effective public education on the 1958 Zoning Code, environmental protection regulations, demolition of buildings already constructed on wetlands and drainage cleaning. In addition, the Liberia Land Authority and Probate Court should not register land deeds on wetlands and should not allow the issuance of permits to occupiers of such land.

“The Ministry of Public Works, EPA and Liberia Land Authority should work together to prepare new zoning and land use policies and propose appropriate regulations that will effectively address the current flood situation. The Ministry of Public Works should consider designing smart and climate-resilient roads and other infrastructure.”

Monrovia is the largest city in Liberia, with a population of over one million. In addition to being a commercial city, Monrovia has an elite and functioning government ministries and agencies. In 2020, Liberia’s population was estimated at 5.058 million. More people live in urban areas (54.5%) than rural areas (45.5%), according to the 2022 Population and Housing Census.

Monrovia is the political, financial, commercial and international center of Liberia. The Monrovia Free Port, Roberts International Airport and a network of roads to neighboring countries connect Liberia with the rest of the world. James Spriggs Payne International Airport serves mainly domestic flights.

Monrovia’s congestion is a rapid result of urbanization, which has led to poor housing conditions. Greater Monrovia is the largest part of the city, extending into Paynesville and 12 municipalities. More than 40 percent of the population lives in Greater Monrovia. Population growth has led to poor housing conditions and the growth of slum communities. According to a report by Cities Alliance, Monrovia has more than 20 slum settlements.

In 2018, the Liberian government signed the Local Government Act into law. The act aims to ensure the decentralization of government so that people have more opportunities to participate in decision-making and policy-making at the local level as a means of strengthening democracy and promoting socio-economic development.

The act authorizes local leaders in the county to take responsibility for health care, education, roads and agriculture needs.

All services in Monrovia should be in the counties. Six years after the law was passed, many say there is much to be desired in enforcing the law.

“One of the things we need to do as a country is be very honest and passionate about how we make local government work. How we share power with the people,” said Eddie Jarwolo, executive director of NAYMOTE.

He said law enforcement is weak “because people in Monrovia are afraid to share power, but you can’t sit in Monrovia… and control everything.”

A few weeks ago, Representative Nyahn Flomo asked the House to release the credentials of all local government officials appointed by the President to check whether the government is acting in accordance with the Local Government Act.

The lawmakers called on the government to ensure full implementation of the bill in accordance with the law.

According to the United Nations, Liberia’s population will nearly double to 6.7 million by 2050, with 68.2 percent living in urban areas. Experts say there is no active policy to guide urban development in Liberia. In 2021, Liberia developed a National Urban Policy (NUP). Ellen O. Pratt, deputy minister for urban affairs at the Ministry of Interior, says the policy is developed in four phases: feasibility, diagnostics, formulation, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

According to the Minister, the third stage has been completed, with each of these stages representing a separate set of data and documents being developed to support the final document.

“The essence of this policy is to help manage urban areas at the national level. We have one document that we refer to for legal and regulatory reform, i.e. development control,” she said.

Minister Pratt added that the policy will govern urban development in all cities, with particular attention to climate change, mitigation measures, including flooding, and citizen concerns.

“Politics is reinforced by laws, some laws will be created, some will be abolished, some will be amended and most importantly many laws will be harmonized because many of them have duplicate functions or say the same thing in different ways and again politics will break it all up.”

Can relocation help?

Monrovia’s rapid growth has led to flooding. People have built on wetlands and makeshift structures in other coastal communities. In addition, poor regulation by the Ministry of Public Works and the government has led to unregulated and uncontrolled construction in Monrovia. Previous leaders, including former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, have proposed changing the capital from Monrovia to Zekepa.

According to the Director of Zoning and Land Use Planning at the Ministry of Public Works (MPW), Edmond Lloyd, the updated zoning law will apply to community development and not Monrovia.

“The new zoning law will be more effective in new communities that are just starting to emerge, because if we sit back and do nothing, the rest of the counties are going to go in a very bad direction.”