PARLIAMENT'S Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) will today explore issues affecting the slow pace of Government's land titling programme when it questions representatives of the Land Administration and Management Programme (LAMP) at Gordon House.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Dr Alwyn Hales had confirmed that of the 800,000 parcels of lands identified islandwide, at least 400,000 were still unregistered.
Last week, PAAC members expressed dissatisfaction with the level of unregistered and untitled parcels of lands, causing thousands of Jamaicans to lose the opportunity to use their land as collateral in accessing loans which could assist in improving their economic status.
LAMP and the National Water Commission (NWC), which recently received approval for a 13-18 per cent increase in water/sewage rate from the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), will be the main agencies of the ministry appearing at today's meeting of the PAAC.
The committee had spent some time last week dealing with the expansion of informal settlements into prime areas including, which chairman Edmund Bartlett described as, "iconic" tourism attractions which are being endangered.
Government members Fitz Jackson, Mikael Phillips and Richard Parchment joined Bartlett in expressing concerns about the ability of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to tackle issues like land titling; the proliferation of informal settlements/squatting; town and country planning and natural resources conservation.
NEPA represents a merger of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), the Town Planning Department (TPD) and the Land Development and Utilization Commission, resulting from efforts of Government's Public Sector Modernisation Programme to integrate environmental, planning and sustainable development policies and programmes.
The MPs felt that NEPA was "toothless' and ineffective in enforcing Development Orders issued by the Town Planning Department, as well as regulations which fall under the NRCA.
"Are we going to start seeing the will to have enforcement (of the orders) after we go through the process, again? Can you give the committee that comfort?" Phillips pleaded, after NEPA indicated that a number of new development orders had been approved and were being advertised in the press by the TPD, headed by former MP John Junor.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NEPA Peter Knight suggested that the processes could be much faster and more effective if there was full support from the MPs themselves.
"You will have to recognise that we have to pay deference to members of Parliament. If you don't have the support of the MPs, then intervention and action become more difficult," Knight told the meeting.
"... And I would like to begin with the MPs (to cooperate). That's why when we had the meeting in Negril we ensured that we brought all of the major stakeholders to the table -- MPs, mayors and councillors for the area," Knight explained.
Jackson said that it was agencies like NEPA which have the expertise, "and, at the end of the day, the technical exercise must deliver an appreciable service and an appreciable product for the Jamaican people".
Knight pointed out that enforcement spans a number of ministries, departments and agencies, and some way had to be found to join them up, in terms of how enforcement is approached.
"Major, major responses are required from the local planning authority, the parish councils," he said, citing an example.
"We also have to bear in mind that persons have recourse to the court. There is an appeal tribunal that is established under the Natural Resources and Conservation Act and persons can appeal the enforcement notices," he said.
Chairman Bartlett, a former minister of tourism, complained that the tourism product was now at risk because of the proliferation of informal settlements which, he said, was "fast overtaking" areas like Negril Green Island.
Dr Hales said that the ministry has taken note of the situation there and had contacted the National Land Agency (NLA), which has vast acreage of lands in the area, and actions were being taken to enforce the laws and restrict squatting.
"I think the lesson to be learnt is that you have to nip it in the bud, the moment it begins, before it becomes a lifestyle, because at the end of the day, when you have to intervene after people have settled, you really are disrupting lives."