Our Land – The Review

“…A small State such as Trinidad & Tobago must accord a very high priority to the judicious management and utilization of its land resources or perish. All elements of land policy must be designed to ensure that these finite resources are efficiently utilized and husbanded in such a manner as to serve the long term interests of the national community…”
—Conclusion of “A New Administration and Policy for Land” (19 November, 1992)

The PNM won national elections on 7 September 2015 by 23-18.

Two key themes emerged during the PNM’s successful campaign –

  1. Firstly, there was a strong emphasis on the critical need to restore proper standards of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance;
  2. Secondly, a commitment was given to ‘keep the various promises made by the PP government’.

When one considers the various promises, policy changes and actions of the PP in relation to land and property, it seems clear to me that those two campaign commitments made by the PNM are entirely incompatible.

Our country has a very high population density and the previous Minister of Land and Marine Resources estimated that some 63% of our country’s land belongs to the State. It is therefore a cardinal State responsibility to properly manage those critical resources so that short and long term interests can be reconciled in a sustainable manner. The present situation is so serious and damaging to our collective interests that I am calling for a halt to any attempt to keep promises with respect to land and property while a fact-finding and policy review is conducted.

landpolicyThe opening quotation is from the National Land Policy 1992, which is now a virtually unknown document since its very existence is denied by all the relevant agencies. This Policy provides critical guidance for how this scarce resource should be best managed in the Public Interest.

The severe crisis now evident in relation to our State Lands resembles a ‘Tragedy of the Commons‘ in which this crucial resource which should offer long-term collective benefits is effectively abused by self-seeking individuals. The pattern of abuse is facilitated by gross mismanagement, in profitable partnership with deliberate obscurity in how the State Land system actually operates.

Food Security

foodplan-2012-15This remains elusive since in March 2012 the Ministry of Agriculture, Land & Marine Resources published its Food Production Action Plan 2012-2015. The major goal of that Action Plan was to halve the country’s annual $4.0 Billion food import bill. Yet in March 2014, the Food Production Minister, Senator Devant Maharaj, stated that the food import bill had been reduced by only 2% since 2010.

The significant reduction of our food import bill will require a flexible plan, with dedicated implementation and continuous monitoring. The one inescapable requirement is for farmers to have access to land of suitable quantity, quality and location. Without a good supply of land, no food security plan can succeed.

Land for the Landless

The proposed revisions to the State Lands Act 1998 were approved by the Lower House of Parliament on 3 June 2015 and withdrawn after the JCC raised certain objections. The proposed change in the ‘Land for the Landless’ policy were approved by Cabinet on 19 March 2015 with these main elements –

  • Occupation Date – Was moved from January 1998 to June 2014, which means many more persons would qualify.
  • Income Limits – Previously the maximum monthly family income was $8,000, this was now revised to $30,000.
  • Definition – the 1998 Act defined a landless person as one who was ‘disadvantaged’ according to the Ministry of Social Development, that word was deleted from the revised proposals.
  • Designated Areas – these were specified in an extensive list of over 400 areas covering the entire country.
  • The Numbers – The total number of persons identified was 250,000 and a commitment was given to regularise some 60,000 of those.

A policy which was originally intended to alleviate the plight of our poorest citizens has now effectively been extended to offer ‘Land for Everybody’. The existing commitment in respect of 60,000 lots will consume about 8,000 acres of land.

EMBD

https://vimeo.com/7987617
embd logoThe EMBD website states that it is responsible for the development of the former Caroni lands – some 7,500 residential lots are being prepared for ex-Caroni workers as part of their retrenchment package, with a further 8,400 agricultural leases of 2-acre parcels reportedly being processed. That means about 940 acres are to be used for the residential lots, with at further 18,500 additional acres for the agricultural plots. The total land area to be used would be about 19,420 acres, which is about a quarter (26%) of the estimated area of the Caroni lands.

Caroni Lands

caroni1975_logo_smallCaroni Lands were leased to ex–Caroni workers as part of their retrenchment compensation – they were entitled to one residential lot and a two-acre parcel for food-crop farming. The use of those lands for those purposes was intended to be controlled by the restrictive covenants in those leases. For instance, the residential lots were to be developed by a residential building within three years and the agricultural lots were to be held by the ex-workers for food-crop farming. In the 2015 budget, the restriction on sale of those agricultural lands was removed (pg 14). In addition, Cabinet Minute 3093 of 6 November 2014 approved the removal of the restrictive covenants in the leases to ex-Caroni workers – both agricultural and residential. No restriction on sale and no requirement to build on the lots.

This is tantamount to the State entirely gifting the development and transactional rights to these lessees, with no effective means of ensuring the originally desired results.

Housing Development Corporation (HDC)

hdc-logoThe HDC sells new homes at heavily-subsided rates to middle-income families, subject to restrictive covenants which prohibit open-market sale within the first ten years. Under the terms of that clause, the owner of one of these homes is required to offer the property to the HDC at the original price. It now seems that the HDC has relinquished those restrictive covenants. I have seen several letters signed by the HDC which authorise the open-market sale of those homes within the ten-year embargo period. I am not aware of any policy decision which supports that pattern of approvals and none of the vendors I have spoken with have paid any penalties of profit-share to the HDC.

This is yet another example of the State or its agents abandoning its fundamental duty to properly manage the public property rights within its remit.

Property Tax

The proposed Property Tax would require a live, open-access database which would allow anyone to examine the details of any property in the country. Those details would include land area, building area, number of bedrooms/bathrooms and other facilities, transaction history, ownership and assessed taxes. One of the strongest sources of opposition to the Property Tax is persons who would wish to keep the details of their property holdings and dealings as secret as possible.

The new Property Tax system and the modern database is in fact a key element in unearthing the facts of our country’s property ownership and occupation.

Property Tax must therefore be a priority in this arena.

The unrealistic policy of homes with gardens consumes too much land and will jeopardise our country’s sustainable future.

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5 thoughts on “Our Land – The Review

  1. Land should never be sold …..it is the property of the people/state and must remain so.
    It should be leased providing income for life to the nation state and its taxpayers.
    Land sale encourages “speculation” “corruption” and we all know what that means.

    Triniland oil wealth is being “abused” with some life theatening consequences.
    Will they ever learn……doubt it.

  2. Good one Afra. However, also note that the debate at the UNCHS in the 90s was about shelter for the homeless, which would require far less land, with a higher density use. This seems to have been converted to mean land for the landless, which is a most ridiculous policy for a SIDS. I hope that we come to our senses soon and work out a sensible human settlements policy framework and land use plans accordingly.

    Jim.

  3. Our Land
    Your assessment and comments are exactly those that are required for the validation of our collective status as a republic. Too few of us, myself included, challenge the despicable traits that are vulgarly and reprehensibly promulgated as policy when they lack transparency and accountability. This is worsened by their manipulating the judicial process to avoid honouring its very expensive judgements. Yet the masses are imprisoned, fined and embarrassed for micro-echoing these same traits. These dual standards, or lack of standards reflect poorly on our literacy, morals and probity.

    Our education system must address these ills and it must be supported by the other institutions. If justice delayed is justice denied-a maxim we all know- then we must admit to be living in a lawless society. If the cost of justice is beyond the grasp of most citizens, then too are we lawless. If the system has two opposing judicial codes- one for the rich and one for the rest- again we mock the dicta of democracy. Our land is infested by unscrupulous, shameless thieves who use their wealth and power to abuse the rest, deny them access to a decent living and condemn them (us) for sacrificing their morals, honour and often their honesty to feed their children. This is sick and we remain silent about its collective consequences, not because we do not know, but because we have paid and paid. Sunity Maharaj expressed similar sentiments in her article, “A People Brave but Naked before Power” (Trinidad Express 11th January 2012). She tells us:
    It is not that we are ungovernable. It is that all 1.3 million of us are forced to govern ourselves in the absence of a political system with the capacity to represent our very diverse interests. And so, as it was before 1962, so it is in 2012 when, again and again, we have to drop everything and run to the rescue of the nation we’re muddling about to build. Is it any wonder, therefore, that we dwell in a state of permanent instability, surrounded by non-stop noise, unable to settle down to work?

    We must insist that the government and those responsible for our well being at all levels perform or pay. The best teachers are not the highest paid but the hardest working and so we must pay our respects to those whose honour and dignity have been unscathed by their years-like Harold and Kwailan La Borde now both 82- and guide our children to pull up their pants and mimic real heroes. Errol Fabien gallantly sails our media ship-Gayelle almost singlehandedly while we allow CNN, ESPN and others of that ilk to consciously miseducate us. Within each state is the potential for true independence and we can be guided by the principles that are espoused by Jacque Fresco and The Venus Project.

    Two African proverbs apply: “He who refuses to obey, cannot command” and “A small house will shelter one hundred friends.”

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