Opposition leader eyes massive land reform for economic growth

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, March 16, 2018

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LEADER of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips told the House of Representatives yesterday that land reform would be a major priority for any future People's National Party (PNP) Administration led by him.

Dr Phillips made the announcement in a wide-ranging contribution to the 2018/2019 budget debate at Gordon House, in which he also criticised the Government for failing to meet its growth projections; making bad decisions in relation to a $31-billion tax package which followed the increase in the personal income tax threshold to $1.5 million; failure to increase social intervention in crime-prone areas; and failure to “break down the inequalities that still scar the country”.

The Opposition leader insisted that the country was still in the grip of “massive inequality”, which, he said, leaves too many Jamaicans behind.

“Some live in plush surroundings, while a quarter of the population lives in substandard squatter communities and are forced into criminal activities to access electricity, water and other amenities of life,” he said.

“We cannot continue this way. No nation can make progress or achieve prosperity if we leave intact the basic structures that create this inequality,” he argued.

Dr Phillips said that Jamaicans must now frontally take on the mission to “break down the inequalities that still scar our country and sap the will and morale of our people”.

He added that the country must lift up the performance of students and give opportunities to the “two-thirds” being left behind who, with opportunity, will flourish.

He said that the Opposition is committed to a massive land reform programme that will unlock the potential of landless farmers.

“We commit to the 700,000 Jamaicans languishing without land titles in so-called squatter communities to transform their quality of life. They, too, deserve a chance to pursue a real Jamaican dream,” he stated.

Phillips insisted that the present distribution of land ownership, together with arrangements for access to land for both agriculture and housing, reflects a pattern of inequality “that has persisted since Emancipation”.

He noted that approximately 60 per cent of small farmers have no titles for the lands they farm and, as a result, most are unable to secure the capital from financial institutions to modernise their farms.

“In fact, there is no single area of our national life that requires a more radical treatment than the issue of land and land-titling,” he told the House of Representatives.

“We are determined to remedy the injustices which have long existed and which continue to be perpetrated against our people. Land reform has been one of the tenets of any progressive country and it will be a priority of a future PNP Administration,” he said.

Dr Phillips's announcement recalled memories of the expansion of land reform as a priority of the PNP's progressive agenda of the 1970s. At that time, the party, led by the late Prime Minister Michael Manley, pioneered a land reform expansion, which included programmes like Project Land Lease in 1973, which attempted an integrated rural development programme providing thousands of small farmers with technical advice, inputs and access to credit.

Phillips said that his position was based on the recommendations of the Land Ownership Commission, which he had established last year, and the next PNP Administration would prepare and pass new overarching land-titling legislation, which brings into one statute the many pieces of legislation covering the titling of land; separate the issue of sub-division approval from titling to allow people to get a title without having to wait indefinitely on parish council approval; use modern cadastral technology to undertake an islandwide mapping of lands necessary for an effective land administration system, which would assist individuals in obtaining cheaper surveys and benefit the poor, in particular; and establish a special regime to liberate mined-out bauxite lands, and other government-owned lands, for productive purpose to ensure that these lands are used for agricultural production and housing to help grow the economy and provide jobs in rural Jamaica.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness will respond to points raised by the Opposition leader when the budget debate resumes in the House of Representatives next Tuesday.

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