July 9, 2004
In praise of the Possessory Titles Bill

by Andrew Cummings

The Possessory Titles Bill is designed to enable persons who are in “factual possession of an exclusive and undisturbed nature of a piece or parcel of land in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for a continuous period of 12 years or more accompanied by the requisite intention to possess the said land…” to apply to the High Court for a declaration of legal title thereto. {{more}}
An analysis of the procedure will be done when the bill, currently being debated in parliament, becomes an Act. As a result, this piece deals only with the beneficial effects of the proposed Act

The Beneficial Effects
At present, in order to obtain a possessory title, a person makes a declaration at the land registry that he/she is in undisturbed and exclusive possession of a piece or parcel of land for a continuous period of 12 years or more, paying rent to no one among other things. That is deemed to be sufficient. But is it? Put in its best light this declaration is essentially a self-serving statement, untested for its truthfulness and requiring no corroboration or back-up evidence. In fact, one could go to the land registry at the Court House and make a statutory declaration that he/she is the owner of “Singer” building in Kingstown. That statutory declaration is then registered and given a number, although demonstrably untrue. So it is, there are thousands of such possessory titles extant in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, some true, some untrue. For this reason, these declarations have no commercial or legal worth. As a consequence banks and other lending institutions do not take them as security for loans neither do potential purchasers accept them as a grounding good legal title.

The New Bill
The new bill seeks to address these problems by enacting a detailed and comprehensive process through which a declarant/applicant has to go before getting possessory title through the court.
On account of the limits of time and space, the social, economic and other benefits of the new Possessory Titles Bill are listed hereafter:
1) It is common knowledge that Vincentians generally are driven to own their own land and house. The obtaining of title from the court will imbue a sense of pride and an aura of confidence in the title holder.
2) The title holder will be able to use his deed as securtiy for loans relating to a variety of objectives, including educational needs, health, home building, agricultural and/or business purposes. Hitherto his so-called possessory deed had no purchase power whatsoever.
3) Business, generally, will be a beneficiary. Banks will be called upon for loans; house builders, architects and artisans in the construction field will get employment; surveryors will be in demand; insurance companies will be patronised; manufacturers and hardware stores among others will get business; and solicitors will be provided with legal work. In short, the multiply effect will run through the entire economy and virtually all Vincentians will be beneficiaries
4) The quieting of succession resulting from the certainty of legal title removes the scope for unending disputes virtually assuring peace of mind to the title holder and his successors where this issue is concerned.
Although title to land under this bill is obtained by adverse possession for a period of 12 years or more (among other things), there is nothing in this bill that is adverse to the broad interests of Vincentians.

The Next Urgent Step
Since conquest in 1763, our system of registration of titles to land has not changed. In order to do a title check for the purposes of passing property on sale or certifying title for mortgage purposes, one is required to go back a period of 60 years to establish a proper root of title. The title check is done at the land registry where documents have long been either effaced, torn, missing, written upon or illegible. As a result, everybody agrees that checking title is akin to a nightmare. Most other Caribbean islands have long dispensed with this antiquated system and have instituted instead nation-wide land registration and titling programmes, the chief charactersistics of which are:
Title checks are facilitated by instantly obtaining at the land registry a blue print of the history of the title being searched. Quite naturally this speeds up the process ten fold thereby enabling mortgages and related documents to be done in a timely and efficient manner. It goes without saying that the business community benefits greatly as a result.
Government insures all titles subject to overriding interest and so provides a cushion in the event of title defects.
The land registration and titling programme is an expensive undertaking but is an urgent imperative in this day and age so that we may have a modern system of land records and land rights. The process also involves a systematic survey of all parcels and a process of title ajudication. Is it possible for us to approach the United Nations Development Programme or USAID to obtain the $20 million US required for the project?
Let’s start the debate and process going as the matter shrieks out for urgent attention.