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Land sale warning

Don't hold out on property needed for development, NWA tells owners

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 11, 2019

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Property owners are being advised to avoid trying to force the Government into making them bigger offers in instances where the State needs to acquire land for infrastructure development.

The caution was delivered by National Works Agency (NWA) Chief Executive Officer EG Hunter at yesterday's meeting of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, which reviewed the second supplementary estimates for the current fiscal period.

Hunter explained that it is the National Land Agency (NLA) which has oversight for land acquisition and which negotiates all such transactions.

Hunter disclosed that there are some lingering issues with acquiring land on Hagley Park and Constant Spring roads in St Andrew where major road and infrastructure projects are under way.

“We have a land meeting every Monday for the last three years with all the lawyers (and) the NLA, and there are still issues …the Government's obligation is to give the contractor the site, (but) to the extent that people hold out, we can't give the contractor that corridor,” he told the committee.

He pointed out that it is significantly more efficient for property owners to enter into private treaty with the NWA for the sale of their lands, instead of going into a situation of forced acquisition.

“The valuations are done by the NLA, the Ministry of Finance gives us the money, (and) we are prepared and ready to make payment. For us to go to adverse possession, that's time-consuming (and) they are not going to get any more money by holding out long, because the National Land Agency determines the compensation and the Land Acquisition Act defines very clearly what a property owner is entitled to,” he said.

“So, I have to explain to a lot of persons that the Government has to be consistent in the application of the law; you can't single out John Brown for special treatment — there is one Act and one Act applies. So anyone who thinks that by being reticent, or holding out, they will get a better deal, that won't happen,” he added.

Permanent Secretary Audrey Sewell further explained that from the design stage for these types of projects, land requirement is determined and the NLA is accorded enough time to effect acquisitions, but there are still challenges.

“We don't necessarily wait until construction is about to begin… sometimes we have challenges. Right now we make provisions to pay for land for developments that have been done years ago because persons refuse, so you have to use the compulsory acquisition because we cannot afford not to do the development because some persons are holding out. Usually we try to work as best as possible to ensure that that is not a problem for the project,” she outlined.

Hunter also pointed out that less than 50 per cent of all lands in the country are registered, which presents yet another problem of determining ownership.

“The person on the land is not necessarily the owner, and the Government will not allow you to pay anyone until Government is satisfied that they are bona fide… the transactions can get bogged down because of the lack of registration,” he stated.

Meanwhile, he said the Mandela Highway improvement project will be completed before March, while Hagley Park Road/Three Miles and Constant Spring Road are 65 per cent and 43 per cent complete, respectively.

“At this stage, for most of those projects we are doing the underground works — pipeline for water, sewage, drainage. Once we finish that, then the remainder goes very quickly,” he explained.

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