Our Readers' Opinions
May 16, 2017
Private lands continue to change ownership

In the beautiful islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the enactment of the Possessory Title Act (38 of 2004) was made into law with the intent to benefit the nation as a whole; but instead, it has proven to be a disadvantage to many landowners in recent years.

The salient question is, why? Is it because we are found wanting in the way of jurisprudence here in St Vincent and the Grenadines? Some concerned citizens have referred to this legislative ruling as an absolute travesty to private landowners and have furthered indicated that it creates a fracture in the law and encourages land theft in the region by up to whopping 65 per cent. Let’s take a keen or attentive look. The principal reason for the stipulation of this Act (38 of 2004) is simple – it allowed a person to own an estate that belonged to his ancestors, or property that he/she had occupied in good faith for 12 or more years. Today, our local newspapers are inundated on a weekly basis with a multitude of applications from people who seek to attain land deeds via this Possessory Act. Many, of course, are legitimate, but among them are the opportunists, the unscrupulous, the unprincipled, and the outright covetous. The latter seizes every opportunity or loophole to be the owner of another man’s properties. What a shame!

It is a few years now since my family lost a significant portion of land here in Clifton, Union Island. We have lost this property to someone who has no legitimate tie to our family land, and it is unfair to us, the descendants of the original owners of these lands. Today, we feel threatened, even on this small plot of land where our house is constructed. What can we do about this?

This vicious land-crave began during the 1990s when a few savvy land-hounds were able to determine that some private properties, which were once cultivated with the cotton crop during the early 19th century, now lie abandoned and their taxes were unpaid for several years. Immediately, these land-hounds began to pay up the annual taxes for these plots of land, while they patiently waited for the 12-year period to end, before they made their moves.

“The scary truth is, there were several unoccupied lands whose taxes haven’t been paid for many years,” said Susan, a resident of Ashton. “These land arrears, unfortunately, give many intruders the opportunity to pilfer land surreptitiously, or by other means, such as legerdemain. Many have falsely and maliciously declared that they had occupied those lands for more than 12 years, as satisfactory to the Possessory Title Act. (Act. 38 of 2004). There are also professionals who are privy to the law, and they too take advantage of the situation to acquire the best lands for themselves. Rather than apprising some of the less fortunate persons who have legitimate family ties to those lands, these so-called professionals, or white-collar workers, instead swindle up these properties for personal use. Stealing lands is not exclusive to Union Island, but extends all throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines. During such time (1990s), wads of Crown lands were gobbled up by the opportunists.

Thanks to the incumbent Government, some of these lands have since been taken back.

Will land theft ever stop? Should the Possessory Title Act. (Act. 38 of 2004) be nullified because of the tremendous negative impact that private landowners have endured, and are prone to encounter in the near future?

With the above being said, it is paramount that some landlords, whether they are civil servants, lawyers, politicians, or just an ordinary citizen, they need to be legally questioned as to how and when they have attained the lands that they now hold deeds to. I am quite sure that many of them will be unable to establish ANY form of family ties to those lands, legal proof of purchase, or verification that such lands have been bequeathed to them. Surely, the only scapegoat here might be the Possessory Title Act. (Act. 38 of 2004).

To attain these lands, an application process starts with a surveyed plan of the property; it must be no older than two years and must bear the applicant’s name. Secondly, all landowners whose lands border the property in question must be adequately informed. But are these neighbours ever informed? The answer is a resounding NO! After all, the culprits are making an effort to steal the property of another person. And believe it or not, these thieves are audacious enough to seek the help of false witnesses to testify in court to corroborate their abundant lies of affiliation to these lands. And these false witness/bearers are willing to take a risky chance to make false oaths, or to bear false witness to substantiate these false claims in court. Why are they taking these high risks? Because they are paid a substantial sum of money, but when money is not available, they are instead given a portion of that same land as their payment.

In every hearing in court, the quests of the judges are to extract the facts from each party. And the truth can be revealed when these false witnesses are questioned and cross-questioned by judges during a hearing. This should be an easy task, for A Liar Has No Memory; he lies to cover another lie. These false witnesses are just too cavalier and seem not to understand the severity of bearing false witness. It is only when someone is charged and jailed when found guilty of fabricating false statements in a court of law in St Vincent and the Grenadines, will such felonious acts cease.

Marilyn J