OPPOSITION Senator Alexander Williams says the Government has not been proactive enough in getting Jamaicans to register their properties and is proposing a roving tribunal as part of a "proactive" move to force persons to do so.
"More than 50 per cent of the land in Jamaica is unregistered. Let that sink in and consider how that is holding back the country," Senator Williams said. "The parish of St Elizabeth, the breadbasket parish, most of the land there is unregistered. I just feel we have not been proactive enough."
Williams, who was making his contribution to a debate on the amendments to the Crown Property (Vesting) Act piloted by Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding in the Senate last Friday, said an investor coming to the island to do a large-scale investment would encounter difficulties due to plots being unregistered.
The legislation seeks to ensure that Government-owned lands are disposed of fairly, transparently, and equitably, in order to widen the base of land ownership in Jamaica. The Act empowers the commissioner of lands to acquire, hold and dispose of land and other property of whatever kind, but this power cannot be exercised without authority in writing from the minister.
The Bill which was passed in the House of Representatives in September amends the Act in order to establish the Land Divestment Advisory Committee, which will provide professional and technical advice regarding divestment to the minister in the exercise of general or special authority.
On Friday, Senator Williams said while he supported the provision, there was a further need to "think outside the box".
"In my mind, what I think we need is a roving tribunal going parish by parish and forcing people to start to consider registering land," he said. "Put up notices that say we are here in this parish; we put you on notice that unless you find documents in relation to this tract of land we will proceed with what we know as to the ownership of the land. "I might sound crazy, but maybe we need to do that, start force people to go and register land," Senator Williams said.
He said that when land is unregistered it doesn't affect the immediate owner only, "it affects that person's family for generations. Down the road the family has no clear idea who owned the land in the first place and this thing that we call family land does not exist in law", he pointed out.
"I am sick and tired in my own practice where persons come and say 'This is the Thomas land, my grandfather, before he died, said so and so should take the piece up by the coconut tree', there is no such thing in law," Senator Williams added.
"You get to a point where the thing is so hopelessly twisted and muddied, so many estates to be administered... then you have litigation all because nobody took the time and trouble to register the land. It is a big problem in this country," he said.
According to Senator Williams, another "big problem" for the country is the attitude to government land.
"In this country you will pass poor communities, hundreds of little shacks on which I happen to know is government land, there are people there living for years, they may not come to the 60-year requirement but they feel they have an entitlement to be there," he said.
Noting the propensity of such persons to quarrel that they did not get sufficient notice when they are being removed, the senator said that these individuals are "not entitled to notice".
"This thing called squatter's rights, no such thing. A squatter does not have a right... there is a big cultural problem that we have that is holding back a lot of development," he told the Senate.
Commenting on the committee which is to guide the ministry in the divesting of lands, he questioned whether this move was part of a larger development plan.
"I know this committee is not going to do that because this is business as usual. Yes, I support it, because you have to have a committee... but my larger concern, Jamaica has no business being poor... why don't we take a proactive approach to registering our lands?" he wanted to know.
In the meantime, he said as it related to squatting, the bull needed to be taken by the horns.
"Why don't we actively engage the squatters that are on government land? Yes, I know it's going to be painful and people have persons in their constituencies and politicians have their interests to serve, but we need to address them in a proactive way," Williams said.