A GREATER NUMBER of non-nationals will need to apply for alien land-holding licenses, or citizenship, should they wish to purchase land in St Vincent and the Grenadines(SVG).
“We need to protect our limited land, and while we offer it to persons who are not Vincentians, it should be on terms, on conditions, where they develop that land in accordance with the provisions of the license,” prime minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves noted during a sitting of the House of Assembly on August 30.
Last week Tuesday, the Aliens (Land-Holding Regulation) Amendment Bill 2022 was laid before the House. It deleted two sets of persons who were considered as belonging to St Vincent and the Grenadines( SVG) in the existing law.
Accordingly, a Commonwealth citizen who is domiciled (living permanently) in SVG “and has been ordinarily resident therein for not less than seven years” will no longer be exempt from having to apply for an alien land-holding license.
The existing Act also regarded a person who is or was married to such a Commonwealth citizen as belonging to SVG. However, this section has been removed and now such a person will also need to apply for an alien land-holding license.
“What we are doing here in effect is to narrow the range of exemptions so that you(these persons) will have to have an alien land holding license if you want to hold property,” the prime minister stated.
However, he also mentioned and reminded that Members of Parliament that since 2002, by way of statutory rules and orders(SR& O), Commonwealth Caribbean territories have been treated differently.
In that 2002 Order it was written, “The Governor General declares that persons who belong to the territories listed in the schedule will not be aliens for the purposes of the alien (land-holding regulation) Act provided there is reciprocity between the territory of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Listed in that schedule were countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States(OECS) territories: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, BVI, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia. All in all, with the new amendments it means “as a Commonwealth citizen who is domiciled here and resident in St Vincent for seven years – if that person wants to take advantage of the alien (land-holding) license exemption – that they become a citizen of St Vincent and the Grenadines; simple,” the prime minister told the Parliament.
He also commented that “The Commonwealth has 53, 54 countries – some of them, other than being part of the Commonwealth – we don’t really have any particular set of connections with one another.”
Adding, “And we have limited land and we feel that if you’re coming to buy our land you should have the alien land holding license.”
“Personally I feel so strongly about this thing that if I had my way alone I’d let it come into being as soon as it (the amendment) is published (in the Gazette),” Gonsalves informed the House, “because on this matter I’m a strong nationalist.”
However, he said that he has “deferred to other opinions”, because it was argued to him that if persons were doing transactions they would have an expectation.
Therefore, the law will come into being 90 days after it is published in the Gazette.
By way of contextual information, the prime minister also revealed what the country makes from alien land-holding licenses. He said last year was a special year, and that until July, they collected 22.6 million dollars, “because there were lots of land transactions in Mustique – high value.”
By the end of July in 2020, the figure collected was 4.2 million, he said, while for the same period this year it is 3.4 million.
“I believe that this provision holds the support of the people of this country.
I sense that, I know this instinctively. And this doesn’t have anything deleterious to our economic development.
On the contrary, it allows us to have a closer handle on those who will buy large properties who are not nationals of our country and seek to speculate on them,” the prime minister stated.
Also supporting the Bill on the side of the Government was senator Ashelle Morgan, who informed that her primary area of expertise as a lawyer is land law.
According to Morgan’s analysis there are 64,000 acres of land available in the country, and there is extreme competition for it.
“It’s very important that if we want Vincentians to have good housing and good quality of housing that we put policies in place effectively to regulate the competition from outsiders,” she said. “Because effectively it is going to come down to who can afford to buy it.
And when we consider the exchange rate, the purchasing power from persons in the Commonwealth is going to be significantly more than Vincentians; so we have to make sure that ordinary Vincentians not only in our generation, but in future generations …are able to buy land and afford land when that time comes.”
The Leader of the Opposition, Dr Godwin Friday, noted that when he was practising he would pay keen attention to the legislative changes of the day, and the rates charged in the alien land-holding license would be adjusted and varied depending on the Government of the day.
In the case of this amendment, he said, “it creates more work for lawyers and possibly more revenue for Government, but I expect that those things would be monitored.”
The Amendment was passed without objection.