Bringing in the bucks

Bringing in the bucks

Land sales add almost $700 million to government coffers in 2019-2020 fiscal year


Saturday, January 16, 2021

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THE Government raked in almost $700 million through the sale or lease of State-owned lands during the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

In its annual divestment report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the Commissioner of Lands (COL), an agency in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, reported that 211 ministerial approvals were granted for the divestment of Government-owned lands during the fiscal year.

“The expected revenue from divestments as at the year ending March 31, 2020 is $691,649,091.00,” said the COL in its report as it noted that this did not include land transactions where there was no money involved.

In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, 54 ministerial approvals were granted for the sale of Government-owned lands valued at almost $495 million, while 40 approvals were granted for the lease of lands to the tune of $35 million. Revenue from the ministerial approval for easement and licences accounted for the rest of the income for the year.

Among the major sales by the COL last year was two townhouses in Charlton Manor, St Andrew, which were sold for $31 and $44 million, repectively, on behalf of the National Insurance Fund.

Three townhouses in Kingsway Manor in St Andrew, valued at a total of $126 million, were also sold during the year, with one purchaser grabbing two of them.

The COL was also instructed to hand over properties to the Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Limited by the Cabinet.

“There were two transactions involving the transfer of properties, amounting to…4,965 acres, to the Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Limited during the period 2019-2020,” the report noted.

“Lands are transferred to the minister of housing to facilitate regularisation of illegal occupiers [squatters], resettlement of persons affected by flooding, and for improvement of residential areas. Where lands are transferred to the Ministry of Housing for upgrading of facilities and infrastructure, it is at no charge. There was, however, no transaction involving the transfer of lands to the minister of housing during the period 2019-2020,” added the COL.

Under the Crown Property Vesting Act, the COL is established as a corporation sole with power to acquire, hold and dispose of land or property of whatever kind, subject to the approval of the minister with responsibility for land.

As a result of concerns in the past about the process by which public lands were being divested, a Policy Framework and Procedures Manual for the Divestment of Government-owned lands was developed and tabled in the Houses of Parliament in 2015.

Its guiding principles are transparency, equity, sustainable land utilisation and management, and the building of social and economic capital.

Prior to ministerial approval, applications for lands recommended by the COL for divestment are submitted to the Land Divestment Advisory Committee (LDAC) which deliberates on the matters and makes recommendations to the minister.

But the policy and procedures manual exempts certain divestments from the need to be considered by the LDAC.

Exempted divestments include the handover of lands owned or held in trust by the COL to Government entities for their use and/or occupation.

The policy and procedures manual also requires that an annual report providing information on the lands divested by the COL be tabled in the Houses of Parliament by the minister with portfolio responsibility for land. This does not include Government-owned lands held by other entities.

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